Turnout slim at first Vernon budget hearing
By Kym Soper
VERNON - Only four people spoke at the first public hearing on the mayor's proposed budget Wednesday, with some calling for deeper cuts to the school side of spending and others wanting restoration of capital improvements that already have been removed.
Tom Didio, Democratic town chairman, called the spending plan a "McBudget" because it was "cheap, but certainly not nutritious for us."
And James Hoover, president of the Vernon Taxpayer's Association, called for lower spending, keeping it to a 3 percent increase or less.
"It isn't clear what the impact of this budget is yet on the taxpayers," Hoover said.
The tax rate resulting from the proposal would go down to 30.6 mills from the current 32.91 mills. But while the tax rate is declining, property assessments increased after revaluation, and the phase-in plan adopted last year by the council has made it difficult to predict what individual homeowners will pay.
Many people living on the economic fringes can't absorb an increase in taxes, Hoover told the council. It not only affects homeowners, but people living in rental units as well, he added.
Mayor Jason L. McCoy unveiled his first budget proposal last week, coming in at $75.48 million - a 3.7 percent increase of $2.694 million over the current budget.
Most of the increase goes to debt service, which accounts for 20.46 percent.
General government spending is proposed at $25.1 million, an increase of 2.75 percent, while school spending goes up 3.5 percent, to $45.69 million. That includes a $675,569 reduction McCoy requested.
Capital improvements were slashed by 66 percent and stand at $150,000 - a decrease of $293,217 over the current spending of $443,217.
That drop concerns Didio, who says the budget fails to address the town's long term needs.
Another speaker, Bill Dauphin, said cutting capital spending was shortsighted, and that some of the current school renovation projects might not have been needed had the buildings been regularly maintained.
"I'm afraid the cuts we're making today are going to cost me more in the future," Dauphin said.
McCoy said he was forced to make the cut to offset debt payments that have come due on bonded projects, such as the high school renovation, road reconstruction, and sewer line upgrades.
Payments came due sooner than originally planned because projects finished up earlier than expected. In his budget message, McCoy writes that "payment of the interest alone on the most recent bond issue beginning in the 2008-09 budget is $846,900, and it remains at the same level" the following year.
So McCoy restructured the debt, and now the town is paying interest only in the first two fiscal years.
While Hoover and others have called for cutting education, Peggy Shea, president of the Vernon Parent's Association, called on council members not to cut the school budget further.
Maintaining all-day kindergarten at Maple Street School, adding a guidance counselor, and providing a teacher to supervise in-house suspension are good investments as they serve the neediest children, she said.
The next public hearing is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday on the second floor of the Senior Center, Park Place.
©Journal Inquirer 2008