Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Vernon breaks tradition, passes budget on first try

By Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
Monday, May 5, 2008

VERNON — The cycle of multiple referenda to adopt a budget was broken Saturday when voters passed Mayor Jason L. McCoy’s $75.13 million recommended budget on the first vote.

The tally was 1,253 in favor, 921 against.

Turnout was low on the damp and gray Saturday — 14.66 percent of the 14,824 eligible voters cast a ballot.

“We had a steady stream all morning,” election moderator Jacqueline Bruno said, but around 2 p.m. the crowds began to trickle down to a lull.

Those who did turn out for the vote at Center 375 tended to be middle-age or younger, Bruno said, adding: “On a cold and rainy day, you usually see a decrease in the older population.”

Typically, it’s that demographic that votes against the budget, say officials, who scheduled the Saturday vote with the hopes of getting more young parents than retirees at the polls.

In the last four years it’s taken four budget referenda for the town to adopt a spending plan.

Even though town officials felt the budget was reasonable and should pass on the first try, that history was enough to give them pause.

“A sigh of relief — that’s just great,” a pleased school board member George Apel said with a smile after the numbers were tallied. “I was optimistic because I felt it was an extremely reasonable budget, but you just never know.”

The 2008-09 budget, which goes into effect July 1, is 3.22 percent higher than this year’s $72.79 million budget, or $2.34 million more.

The budget breakdown is:

• General government, $25.08 million, or 2.66 more than this year’s $24.43 million.

• Education, $45.37 million, or a 2.78 percent increase over $44.15 million in this year’s budget.

• Debt service and capital improvements, $4.67 million, an 11 percent increase over this year’s $4.20 million

The tax rate needed to fund the budget is 30.28 mills. A mill equals $1 for each $1,000 of assessed property value.

The bulk of the spending increase is due to paying off borrowing to improve the schools and fix the roads that voters approved in referenda three years ago.

Tax increases for property owners will largely result from revaluation, however, which the Town Council voted to phase in over three years.

Town officials had hoped the budget would be adopted at the annual town meeting last week, but former mayor Joseph Grabinski forced the referendum vote after collecting 200 signatures on a petition. He said his reasoning was that a referendum vote would be more democratic as it would draw a greater number of voters in the 14 hours polls were open than a town meeting held at a specific time.

Also, many older voters are unable to attend evening meetings, he said.

Not everyone agreed that the referendum was needed, however.

“This was a reasonable amount,” James Hoover, president of the Vernon Taxpayer’s Association said of the budget increase after the polls closed Saturday.

Previous forced referenda, which on average cost $6,960, had always been about keeping the budget increase in line with inflation, Hoover added.

“Three percent is what we usually get it down to with referenda. Other people felt you should always have a vote, but I didn’t see this one as a big necessity, although voting is neither wrong nor to be discouraged,” he added.

The budget was the first for McCoy, who was elected in November and who promised to present realistic budgets that would not require repeated referendums.

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