Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Capital improvements, contributions to non-profits cut from budget

By Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer
June 27, 2006

VERNON - The Town Council trimmed more than $134,000 from the proposed 2006-07 budget - cutting monies from non-profit organizations, the Planning Department, and the Department of Public Works - in the hopes that the latest spending plan would win voter support at the next referendum.

The $70.7 million budget adopted by the Town Council late Monday night will go before the voters at the fourth referendum, on July 13.

On June 20, voters rejected a proposed $70.84 million budget by a 1,685-1,577 margin.

Because of the latest defeat, the Town Council was forced to adopt a 90-day provisional budget warrant to keep the town operating while a permanent spending plan is hammered out.

The latest proposal increases town spending by $2.76 million or 4.05 percent.

Based on the latest round of cuts, the tax rate would stand at 36.73 mills, an increase of 0.94 mills or 2.63 percent over the present fiscal year.

The budget proposed on June 20 would have raised the tax rate by 1.04 mills.

If the latest budget proposal were approved, a homeowner with property assessed at $200,000 would pay $7,346 in property taxes, an increase of $188 over the present fiscal year.

The Town Council is scheduled to meet tonight at 7 in the Vernon Senior Center on Park Place and will likely adopt a tax rate that reflects the latest spending plan.

At the behest of Mayor Ellen L. Marmer and other town officials, the Town Council narrowly adopted a tax rate after the June 20 referendum, which reflected a 0.99-mill increase from the current fiscal year.

But Republicans called for tonight's special meeting, saying they were concerned that voters might feel they had been circumvented by town leaders who adopted a tax rate higher than what was needed to cover costs.

Monday's Town Council meeting, which lasted nearly five hours, began with some relatively small cuts in the town's contributions to local non-profit organizations such as the Visiting Nurse Association and the Tri Town Shelter and to the town's 2008 bicentennial celebration, but it ended in significant reductions to capital improvements.

Among the items cut were:

* $31,000 for a new loader for the Public Works Department. Public Works Director George Fetko had been requesting the new loader for several years, saying the new equipment would be used frequently and improve efficiency on road projects.

* $23,500 that was set aside for the replacement of the roof on the Hartford Turnpike fire station.

* $32,660 from the Planning Department by deferring the hiring of a new assistant town planner and economic development coordinator for six months. The coordinator position was made vacant recently when Assistant Town Planner Neil S. Pade was promoted to the town planner's post.

* $25,000 from the Board of Education's budget, which now stands at $42.84 million budget.

Among the items that did not get cut was a cruiser for recently appointed police Capt. James L. Kenny.

Republican Deputy Mayor Jason L. McCoy said it was foolish for the town to not provide an adequate vehicle to a police position that the council recently voted to restore.

The council also elected to provide $12,000 to Fire Marshal David Roth toward the purchase of a new vehicle.

The council originally had allocated $20,000 toward the vehicle, which Roth said is necessary for him to perform his duties professionally and safely.

Several town leaders expressed exasperation about the latest budget proposal and said they were concerned about the town's financial future.

"We have no choice," Republican Councilwoman Christy N. Vale said. "We have made, as far as I'm concerned, terrible financial decisions. Every one of us is sitting here saying 'What are we doing?'"

Before their deliberations, the Town Council heard from several residents, including Trout Stream Drive resident and Vernon Taxpayers Association President James M. Hoover, who blasted the school system for adding 42 staff members between 1991 and 2005.

Calling the employment figures an "atrocity," Hoover said the town has seen a net reduction of 10 employees during that same period, while the schools continued to add staff even as enrollment was declining.

But David Kemp, who co-chairs the Board of Education's budget steering committee, said the majority of those hires were teacher aides and other paraprofessionals, many of whom work part-time and are not offered benefits by the school system.

Kemp said late Tuesday that the number of teachers, custodians, nurses, and administrators has remained steady or declined during that time.

"To make a misleading statement such as he did is irresponsible of any president of any credible organization," said Kemp, who challenged Hoover to a debate on educational spending.

©Journal Inquirer 2006