Annual budget referenda wrong fit for Groton
We do not support the introduction of an annual budget referendum into Groton’s budget process. We prefer a process that is deliberative rather than political. We believe Groton’s budgets should reflect town-wide needs and balance factional ones. We see substantial financial costs and practical challenges associated with conducting annual referenda.
75 municipalities in Connecticut still decide their budget by referendum. None of these towns are as large as Groton. None are as complex governmentally as is Groton. Only three have lower mill rates. (Source: CT Office of Policy and Management).
Deliberative versus political budget process
These days, we are all busy people. Many Groton taxpayers juggle work and family, health issues, travel requirements and other commitments.
Town Councilors and RTM members spend hundreds of hours listening to all interests, learning the short term and longer-term needs and preferences of citizens. They work closely with a professional staff. In public hearings, budget workshops and countless meetings, Groton’s budget process has incorporated months of input from taxpayers, staff and subdivisions into Town Council and RTM decisions.
This Charter Revision Commission has recommended increased public input, budgetary guidance from the new Board of Finance and from the Town Council to the Town Manager. These elected officials are highly informed when they approve the final town budget.
We are concerned that voters in a budget referendum are not as informed and are less apt to have the whole town in mind when they vote.
It is only after much listening, learning and deliberation that elected representatives can set priorities for all of Groton. Unlike individual voters, these representatives have volunteered to listen to all citizens' views. We believe this is the best way to ensure that all Groton residents have a voice.
Practical challenges – timing
This commission’s recommendation includes a budget calendar that begins with budget workshops in January, is followed by town staff and Board of Education work in February, Board of Finance review in March and Town Council review and adoption by April 30.
In May, voters would begin to vote in budget referenda and continue to vote on amended budgets every two weeks until a majority votes to approve.
Under Connecticut law, municipalities must adhere to a July 1 fiscal year. Under our current Charter, a mill rate must be set by June 9. Between mid-May and June 9, it is only possible to hold a maximum of two referenda.
This commission’s recommendation specifies a referendum be held every two weeks until approved. If a budget is not approved by June 30, the previous year’s budget is effective. This would be the basis for setting a mill rate and levying taxes for the first six months of the fiscal year.
Several problems arise: Tax bills would not arrive until sometime in July and be immediately due. Once a budget is approved and a new mill rate is set, adjusted tax bills would be sent in December prior to the second payment due date in January.
In allowing the month of May to be used for referenda, the town loses the ability to know state revenues for the coming year. Without referenda, the BOF and council reviews could take place a month later when, in normal times, the legislature has passed a budget and adjourned. The mill rate could be set when revenues are known.
In 2016, our Town Registrar and Town Clerk estimated the cost of conducting a town-wide election to be $22,590. This is not a justifiable expense.
The best government structure for Groton is a representative democracy.
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