Stonington residents critical of 2 percent budget limit

Stonington — A group of 89 residents has signed a letter to the Board of Finance telling members they had no authority to instruct department heads to limit their proposed 2015-16 budget increases to 2 percent.

The residents, calling themselves Concerned Taxpayers, also warned that a 2 percent limit would lead to cuts in services and questioned how the board came up with the 2 percent limit.

On Nov. 4, the Board of Finance sent the letter about the 2 percent limit to town department heads in advance of them submitting their budget requests to First Selectman Rob Simmons.

“The Board of Finance, after reviewing inflation rates, lack of Social Security increases, and the current economic activity within the state and town, has decided to set 2% as a recommended budget increase for the coming fiscal year. Any exception to this figure will have to be justified in detail,” stated the letter.

But the residents’ letter states that the town charter “does not call for a role in the budgetary process for the Board of Finance until after the initial budget is presented to the Board by the First Selectman. It is the First Selectman’s role to gather information about budgetary needs from each department head in order to compile a proposed budget. Therefore this letter oversteps the bounds of the Board’s authority.”

The letter continued that even if the board could make such a recommendation, the formula it used “to arrive at 2 percent is puzzling.”

“To set a budget limit based on a very narrow range of national statistics, before receiving any information about what local expenses the budget has to cover, is irresponsible,” it states.

The letter also states that demanding no more than a 2 percent increase “is, in effect, calling for across-the-board cuts in services.”

The letter states the board must be aware that each department faces mandatory increases for things such as raises and insurance that already have been negotiated, and those are likely to exceed 2 percent.

“If a 2 percent overall increase is strictly enforced, essential town services will be degraded,” the letter states.

“Thousands of people in Stonington rely every day on services provided by the town. Of course it is vital that our elected officials are careful with every taxpayer dollar that they collect. Of course it is imperative that every department is run as efficiently as possible. But in reality, slashing services and failing to make essential investments eventually leads to much greater social and financial costs down the road. We urge that you act responsibly in this matter, as our elected representatives,” concludes the letter.

Among those signing the letter were residents who played a central role in successfully convincing residents to approve a charter change last month that ensures Board of Finance elections are contested in the future. They include Kevin Bornstein, Bob Statchen, Amy Hambly and Charter Revision Commission Chairman Matt Berger.

Until the change, the charter called for each town committee to appoint a candidate for the two available seats every two years, which meant the pair ran unopposed and were automatically elected unless there was a primary challenge or an unaffiliated candidate.

j.wojtas@theday.com

Twitter: @joewojtas

 

 

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