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Salem finance board to review comments from Wednesday's public hearing

By Kelly Catalfamo

Publication: theday.com

Published April 11. 2013 6:00PM   Updated April 11. 2013 6:05PM

Salem — The Board of Finance will meet tonight to review the comments made at Wednesday night’s public hearing on the budget, a forum that drew more than 50 residents to the gym of Salem School.

The questions and remarks at the hearing revealed fundamental differences in how residents view the role of local government.

Liz Householder, a real estate agent who is married to a member of the Board of Finance, received applause when she stood up to announce that she would vote “no” on the budget if the residents’ comments resulted in any additional expenses.

“Your children are not suffering going to Salem School,” she said, addressing parents that expressed concern about cost-savings measures instituted by the school and worried about it staying competitive with regional magnet schools.

Householder is concerned about rising property taxes in the town, which she said have been driving away potential new residents.

She also stated that the library is just fine the way it is, addressing comments made by several residents that that institution is underfunded.

Many people at the hearing requested the addition of a children’s librarian to the budget, something the Board of Selectmen has previously denied and which Bill Weinschenker, chairman of the finance board, said Wednesday night would not be considered.

But Householder’s plea for fiscal restraint wasn’t the only applause line of the night. Chairman of the Library Board of Directors, Len Giambra, also received applause when he responded to her comments with an impassioned defense of his institution.

Giambra, who does not have children, said that he supports the school system but does not use it.

“Seven out of 10 dollars that I pay in taxes are not used to my benefit in any way,” he said. “I would like the other services to be as good as the school system.”

“We’re not funding the library enough,” said resident Kim Rain, stressing that funding children’s programs at the library was especially important in light of a decreasing budget for Salem School.

The education budget is projected to increase by almost 4 percent, something that drew attention from the more fiscally conservative members of the audience given the school’s declining enrollment numbers.

But the money requested for Salem School actually decreased to support an increase in the cost of other services, such as tuition paid to East Lyme High School and transportation costs.

At the end of the meeting, four residents stood up to get on record commenting that they did not want the school budget to be cut any further.

Weinschenker said the mill rate, which determines the property tax rate, will not be calculated until later in the process. Without any changes to the budget, he estimates that the tax rate would increase by about three-tenths of a mill.

The Board of Finance will decide whether to act on any of last night’s comments at its 7 p.m. meeting in Salem Town Hall today.

The final budget the finance board approves will be presented by First Selectman Kevin Lyden at a May 1 town meeting. At that point, the budget can only be adjusted downward. It will go to referendum on May 8.

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