Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Vernon Town Council to review department heads' budget cuts

By Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer
May 16, 2006

VERNON - The Town Council will sit down Monday evening to review a revised 2006-07 budget proposal, which will likely include a series of cuts proposed by department heads.

Last Thursday, the Town Council ordered department leaders to cut 1.5 percent from their budgets in an effort to reduce proposed spending and tax rate increases.

The move came two days after voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposed $71.94 million budget, which would have increased spending by 5.86 percent.

Voters rejected that proposed spending plan by a 2,048 to 1,028 vote.

If the Town Council adopts a revised budget Monday, a second referendum would likely be held June 6, Mayor Ellen L. Marmer said today.

Marmer said she met with department heads Monday morning and instructed them to submit their adjustments and comments to Finance Officer James M. Luddecke by Wednesday afternoon.

This will allow him time to prepare information packets, which will be distributed to Town Council members Friday afternoon, giving them time to review the material during the weekend.

The Town Council will sit down at 6 p.m. Monday in the Vernon Senior Center to review the new figures.

Each department head will be given the opportunity to make a presentation and answer questions from Town Council members, Marmer said.

Marmer expressed frustration today with the process, and criticized Republicans for laying the burden on making cuts to the department heads.

"They are choosing to abdicate their responsibility and put it onto the department heads," Marmer said.

"This is unfortunate for the department heads and the town and the community at large," Marmer said.

In voting to send the budget back to the department heads, Republicans, who hold a 7-5 majority on the Town Council, said they wanted to make a significant cut to the proposed spending increases while giving department leaders some control over reductions.

"We think the department heads know where it is better to cut their own budgets, rather than us doing it to them," Republican Town Councilwoman Christy N. Vale said today. "I think that is very reasonable."

Both Marmer and Vale said surrounding towns are going through similar struggles with their budgets and that Vernon is not unique.

"All towns are in the same situation," Vale said. "It's no one's fault."

Among the potential cuts to be discussed Monday is a more than $628,000 slash to the Board of Education's $43.48 million budget proposal.

This would be in addition to the $414,000 in cuts made during Marmer's and the Town Council's initial budget revisions.

If these cuts were to come to fruition, School Superintendent Stephen C. Cullinan said, he has a hard time envisioning a scenario that would not involve cuts to staff and programs.

"This is just a massive cut," said Cullinan, who noted that if the cuts were to stand, the school system's budget would increase by less than 2.5 percent.

At the start of Thursday's meeting, Marmer presented the Town Council with $465,547 worth of proposed spending reductions, which would have reduced appropriations for police equipment, part-time wages in the Parks and Recreation Department, a new parks tractor, and a $317,000 reduction to the Board of Education budget.

Those cuts would have decreased the proposed tax rate increase from 1.92 mills to 1.56 mills.

Had the Town Council adopted those cuts, the proposed tax rate would have stood at 37.35 mills.

The decision to send the budget to the department heads came after Republican Deputy Mayor Jason L. McCoy moved that each department's budget be reduced by 1.4 percent.

But after consulting with Town Attorney Joseph D. Courtney by telephone, administration officials told McCoy that his motion was not consistent with the town charter.

At that point, McCoy made the motion to direct the department heads to make their own cuts.

©Journal Inquirer 2006