Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Vernon council adopts revised budget

By Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
May 10, 2007

VERNON - After two nights of shifting funds and trimming accounts - some substantial and others minute - Town Council members by midnight Tuesday had a new $73 million proposed budget that they hope voters will approve at referendum next week.

The new spending plan reflects a $1.15 million reduction from the previous $74.7 million proposal, which died in dramatic fashion last week when it was rejected by voters by a 2-to-1 margin.

In making adjustments these last two days, council members were aiming for a 4 percent increase in spending. By the end of the night Tuesday they landed with a 4.36 percent hike over the current $70.7 million budget.

The new package includes a proposed general government budget of $25.3 million, a proposed school budget of $44.2 million, and capital spending of $4.2 million.

The tax rate needed to fund the proposal is 33.4 mills, a decrease of 0.79 mills over the last plan.

The package now goes to referendum on Tuesday, May 15, with voting taking place at Center 375, 375 Hartford Turnpike, between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Those eligible to cast a ballot include all property owners and those 18 or older who are registered to vote in Vernon.

Last month the council reduced the mayor's original 7 percent budget increase to 5.7 percent, or $4.03 million, before the first budget package was sent to voters last week.

Some council members believe that voters won't tolerate more than a 4 percent increase over current spending.

Starting off the night Tuesday, Mayor Ellen L. Marmer told council members that the town side of government could little afford further cuts.

After meeting with Finance Director Jim Luddecke throughout the day, Marmer proposed $464,478 in reductions to spending, of which $332,105 was slated for road improvement projects.

"I'm not a happy camper about this, but I see no other way, and this is doable," Marmer said.

Marmer, a Democrat, promised council members that the roadwork would be done this year and paid for with money from the undesignated fund balance.

On Monday, Marmer cautioned against raiding the account in order to balance the budget, as its main function is a combination savings account and rainy day fund.

Tuesday, she said using the fund for this one-time scenario was an acceptable risk.

Council members already dipped into the account Monday to pay for such capital improvements as the first year of repairs and a new filter for the Horowitz Pool, and a generator and photo lab for the police station.

Luddecke also admitted that using the general fund to pay for such items "was not a practice I generally recommend, but the roads have to be fixed and we have a budget dilemma."

There will be a negligible effect on the town's borrowing power provided the account is brought up to a surplus level in the next two years, Luddecke added.

Other cuts made Tuesday include $30,000 from the town's contribution to the Rockville Public Library, $22,000 for a new police patrol car, and $300,000 from the Board of Education budget.

The straight cut of $300,000 to the school board was a reversal of a decision made Monday to charge the schools for town provided services such as snow plowing and garbage collection.

The council settled on the fee-for-service system Monday because it believed that state law prevented them from making added cuts the school budget without risking a severe penalty.

But with updated information in hand Tuesday, council members rescinded their vote for the $300,000 fee, and instead cut the school proposal by that amount. School board members will have to decide where those cuts will be made.

Alongside the larger items, Town Council members also made smaller cuts, such as $350 in overtime costs for delivery of meeting packets to council members.

"You know we have a bare bones budget when were cutting such a small amount," Democratic Councilwoman Marie Herbst said.

Still, Republican Councilman George Apel predicted the budget would fail at referendum next week.

"And when we come back, it'll be people we'll have to start cutting," he added.

Marmer said it would go beyond jobs.

"This is very serious," Marmer said at the close of deliberations. "It's serious to the town. If this budget doesn't pass, we're going to start discussions on payments for picking up garbage. We can't function as a government if we continue this way."

©Journal Inquirer 2007