Vernon budget fails again
By Kym Soper
VERNON - Charging for curbside trash pickup today - and perhaps leaf removal and recycling tomorrow - are options Mayor Ellen L. Marmer is seriously considering now that the Town Council's second budget has failed in the second round with voters.
The council's revised $73.79 million 2007-08 budget was rejected by a vote of 2,200 to 1,246 at referendum Tuesday, with 23.2 percent of the voters casting a ballot.
"Even though we brought out more voters, it still was not enough to do the job," Marmer said shortly after the results were announced during a meeting of the Town Council.
Tolland voters refuse 4 percent tax hike, Page 4
The first $74.7 million budget was rejected by a 2-to-1 margin May 1, with 2,246 opposed, 900 voting in favor, and 20.8 percent of registered voters heading to the polls.
Many on the council, Board of Education, and town staff say they're disappointed that there was not a better cross section at the polls and that voters in both referendums tended to be over age 70.
Council member and retiree Bill F. Campbell said when he went to vote Tuesday he "felt like a kid."
"I think I was the youngest one there," Campbell, 67, said with a chuckle after the Town Council meeting.
The council will meet on Monday and Tuesday to once again revamp the budget in preparation for the next referendum, scheduled for Tuesday, June 5.
Marmer said that trash removal, which is managed by the Public Works Department, costs about $800,000 annually.
A "pay to throw" program charging residents for hauling costs, as is done in some other towns, could result in substantial savings , she said.
Charges would be based on volume, Marmer said. If successful, she would suggest going even further and charge for both leaf removal and curbside pickup of recyclable materials.
"I think we need to start looking at service areas, where service will not be affected but where we can still reduce the budget," Marmer said.
Members of the Vernon Taxpayers Association, which led the march to defeat the last two budgets, say they can't afford, and won't support, a budget with more than 3 percent growth.
The $73.792 million budget rejected Tuesday would have increased spending by 4.36 percent over this year's $70.707.
Republican councilman Daniel E. Anderson said about $400,000 would have to be trimmed to get the budget down to 4 percent - a number he feels confident would pass muster with voters.
But Deputy Mayor Jason McCoy, also a Republican, disagreed, saying more in the range of $800,000 to $1.5 million in cuts is needed.
"We need to get at least 3.5 percent, or somewhere south of 4 percent, in order to pass the budget, and get closer to where we were last year," McCoy said.
Republicans on Monday plan to suggest cutting overtime costs, trimming those accounts by 20 percent for non-emergency services and possibly 5 percent for police.
The Parks and Recreation Department will also be scrutinized for savings, McCoy said, and a hiring and spending freeze also will be on the table. Also, the council will consider furloughs of non-administrative employees.
But "the bottom line is no matter what the budget is - you could have zero growth - people are still going to be paying more in taxes because of reval," Marmer said.
In October 2006, during the recent real estate boom, all property in town was assessed for revaluation, with some properties increasing in value as much as 59 percent.
After the last budget failed, Republican council members pushed for a three-year phase-in of revaluation that would ease taxes upwards gradually.
©Journal Inquirer 2007