Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Voters nix Vernon budget

By Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer
June 7, 2006

VERNON - For the second time in less than a month, voters have overwhelmingly defeated a proposed 2006-07 budget at referendum.

By a 1,876 to 1,125 vote, residents on Tuesday rejected the latest proposal - a $71.51 million spending plan.

More than 62 percent of the 3,011 voters who went to the polls Tuesday voted against the budget.

Turnout was slightly less than at the first May 9 budget referendum with nearly 20 percent of the 15,125 eligible voters casting ballots.

The first referendum drew about 21 percent of the eligible electorate.

The results of Tuesday's referendum frustrated officials on both sides of the political aisle.

Because of Tuesday's budget defeat, the Town Council will meet at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the Vernon Senior Center on Park Place to adopt a new budget for a third referendum, tentatively scheduled for June 20.

But before adjourning Tuesday's Town Council meeting, several council members sent out an impassioned plea for voters to come to Thursday's meeting and tell them what they want to see cut or added to the budget.

Republican Deputy Mayor Jason L. McCoy said he would like see all 3,011 voters in attendance at Thursday's workshop.
"If you've got a major cut in government that will work, come and talk to us," Republican Daniel A. Champagne said after the results of the vote were announced.

Republican Christy N. Vale said the "no" vote is frustrating because it doesn't give leaders any insight into what specific changes the voters would like to see.

"'No' doesn't tell us anything," Vale said. "You just can't say 'no' and drop it on 12 people who you've taken the power away from anyway by having these referendums. It's non-partisan at this point, folks."

Democrat Bill Fox urged voters to pack the senior center on Thursday and to e-mail Town Council members about their concerns regarding the budget.

Two people who likely will be in attendance Thursday are James Hoover and former Mayor Joseph Grabinski, members of the Vernon Taxpayers Association, a local watchdog group.

Hoover said Wednesday that the results of this latest referendum indicate that voters cannot afford the 5.24 percent increase proposed in the latest spending plan.

Hoover said town officials should cut $2 million out of the proposed budget, and suggested that the town use revenue from a tax lien sale to invest in cost saving measures such as urinals that do not require water for flushing.

He added the town should look to reduce its full-time workforce by employing more part-time workers in town and school departments.

"It's time to pay the piper because the paupers can't pay it anymore," Hoover said.

Hoover said the school system also should go back to the basics of math and reading at the elementary school level and eliminate special programs such as ecology, which he said are not fundamental to early childhood education.

"Ecology is not something we need to emphasize to kindergartners," Hoover said. "They need to go back to the ABCs of basics."

Democratic Councilwoman Marie A. Herbst said Wednesday morning that she hoped both Hoover and Grabinski would come Thursday to tell the council where the $2 million should be cut.

"I don't know where these guys are coming from," Herbst said today.

Tuesday's defeat means that the town will already be under increased pressure after July 1, the first day of the 2006-07 fiscal year.

The need for a third referendum means the town's tax bills will not go out on time, which could spell cash flow problems for the town and lost interest revenue, Democratic Mayor Ellen L. Marmer said.

Under the budget rejected Tuesday, the tax rate would have increased from 35.79 mills to 37.35 mills, an increase of 1.56 mills.

The previously rejected budget would have increased the tax rate by 1.92 mills.

"There is no way we can have a zero budget when you have one mill that's attributable to contracts, energy, and debt service," Marmer said. "You can't go below one mill."

There also is added pressure for the town to get the budget passed on June 20 because a defeat would likely mean the town will start off the 2006-07 fiscal year without a spending plan in place.

That could set up the unusual scenario of emergency spending bills or the Town Council having to approve a tax rate without a budget.

At this point, is unclear where the next round of spending cuts will come from.

During the past revision, council Republicans asked department heads to reduce their budgets by 1.5 percent.

Those cuts would have eliminated services such as the police officer at Vernon Center Middle School and training for land-use commission members, Marmer said.

But instead of opting for those cuts, the council went with $425,000 in reductions proposed by Marmer two days after a proposed $71.94 million budget was rejected at the first referendum.

The schools also are facing the prospect of significant cuts in services.

The last budget cut reduced the school system's proposed budget by $317,000.

The school board already has approved $365,000 in cuts, including the elimination of field trips, freshman sports, and the reduction of between eight and 12 paraprofessionals.

School officials have said further cuts to the school board's proposed budget would mean further reductions in services and programs in school system.

©Journal Inquirer 2006