Finance board members spar over education, recycling, before passing $152 million budget
The Board of Finance Wednesday night approved a recommended 2013-14 budget that is just $53,048 more than First Selectman Timothy Herbst’s proposal, despite efforts by the democrats on the board to add back about half of the reduction made to the Board of Education’s proposal.
The Board of Finance passed a budget of $152 million, including a $92.9 million education budget, about $1.8 less than the Board of Education requested. The budget will now go to the Town Council.
When it came time to vote on the grand total of the budget, republican board members Elaine Hammers, Dave Rutigliano and Paul Lavoie voted yes on the budget while democrats Andrew Palo and Tom Tesoro voted no and Steven Lupien abstained, allowing the budget to pass.
“There are elements in this budget we disagree with,” Tesoro said. “But it would be foolish of us to lock up the budget.”
Education was the main bone of contention between both sides. Hersbt’s recommendation gives the schools a 2.74% increase over the current year. It also removes $692,650 for technology from the operating budget and makes it an item to be bonded. Both republicans and democrats said they would support the technology bond.
Tesoro made a motion to add a little more than half of $1.8 million reduction back to the school budget, about $962,000. Tesoro said the amount would allow schools to maintain staff and programming. The motion failed.
“Is there any number you guys are willing to go up from the first selectman’s budget,” Tesoro asked, clearly frustrated, after the motion failed.
“I’m pretty comfortable with the first selectman’s budget,” Rutigliano responded.
“Instead of spending two and a half hours here we could have just voted to approve the first selectman’s budget,” Tesoro said.
Lavoie said the needs of the schools had to be balanced with aging community and needs of the taxpayers.
“We never give the Board of Education everything they ask for but they manage to have a surplus every year,” Lavoie said.
Hammers agreed that increases had to be controlled.
“An increase of 2.75 is not bad,” Hammers said. “We have to remember we have a lot of unemployed and underemployed people. There is only so far we can go.”
Tesoro said he was disappointed the republican members were not willing to compromise and meet halfway. He said his sole intention in making the motion was to prevent any staff or program reductions next year, since the superintendent said the $1.8 million cut in the proposal could lead to reductions.
“I want to apologize to the parents,” Tesoro said. “I tried my best.”
The first selectman’s elimination of a recycling coordinator caused some additional tension during the vote.
Andrew Palo voted to restore $75,829 to the budget for the recycling coordinator.
“This one I still don’t understand,” Palo said of eliminating the position. “We eliminate the recycling director when a year ago we made a commitment to this new program. We’re still in the first quarter of that.”
Palo said if Herbst didn’t agree with the job the current coordinator is doing, that doesn’t mean the position should be eliminated. Public Works Director John Marsilio supported keeping the position, Palo said.
“Mr. Marsilio lost his second in command last year and now we are taking the recycling coordinator away,” Palo said. “If It’s a performance issue, don’t eliminate the position.”
Palo’s motion failed, 3-3.
The republican members of the board proposed a way to get a part-time coordinator to help with recycling. Rutigliano made a motion to add $25,000 to the Town Engineer budget, in order to promote the town engineer to deputy public works director, to help with recycling too.
The town’s civil engineer would be promoted to town engineer, under that proposal.
Rutigliano said that in the last year it became clear the recycling coordinator doesn’t need to be a full-time position and this was the best way to make sure that work could still be done in that area.
“We said as a board last year ‘we don’t need a deputy director we need a recycling director,’” Tesoro said. “Twelve months later, we need it. We’re trying to backdoor something you should have done the right way.”
Cindy Penkoff, a republican alternate on the board called the recycling coordinator position, a “failed experiment.”
“Based on all I’ve seen it’s not a full-time position,” Penkoff said. “With the right supervision we can go forward.”