Candidate McHugh says finance board needs 'checks and balances'
The town budget process is no mystery to Lainie McHugh. In fact, she’s been giving presentations on the ins and outs of the Trumbull Board of Education budget for the last four years, with support from fellow members on the Trumbull PTSA Council.
As the Democrat running for the Board of Finance seat in Tuesday’s special election, McHugh said her focus is much larger than education, and she’s done her homework.
“The last five years, I’ve watched boards back into budget numbers,” McHugh said of the Trumbull school and town budget. “It’s based on a number and not the facts. You need to make choices based on reasoning and needs.”
McHugh said her priorities as a Board of Finance candidate are, in elief, so the senior population is not pushed out of town, and education.
She said she is tired of what she sees as budget “gimmicks” like bonding for items that should be budgeted, in order to keep the tax rate lower.
“There has been a lot of manipulation to make people think they are getting a better deal than they are,” she said. “I sit at these meetings and I shake my head.”
McHugh, a full-time physical therapist, is known in the community as one of the driving forces behind “The ABC’s of the Trumbull Education Budget,” which she describes as a nonpartisan and straightforward explanation of the school budget each year.
She has a daughter in Trumbull High School and a son in middle school.
“I work full time, so I can’t be a room mom and I don’t want to run the bake sale,” she said. “This was something I could do. And the more I learned, the more I got upset at how few people really understood the issues.”
The ABC’s information is shared through pamphlets, online at Trumbullps.org and through presentations to many town groups, including the Rotary and Chamber of Commerce. McHugh said the presentations never advocate for anything, but rather just explain what can be a complicated process.
“If you want to argue about what you are spending money on, then here are the facts,” McHugh said of the community outreach effort.
Last November, McHugh ran for Board of Education on the Democratic ticket and lost. She said making the decision to run for Board of Finance, after Democrats fought for a special election in court, took some soul searching.
She didn’t like that it appeared Republicans kept the resignation of State Rep. Dave Rutigliano quiet, in a effort to avoid a special election, allowing for the first selectman’s appointment, Bill Haberlin, to keep the seat. McHugh also felt she could have a real impact on Board of Finance.
“I thought about it a long time before I put my hat in the ring,” she said. “It’s a big commitment and not one that anyone should take lightly. I will not be a placeholder.”
Something lacking, in McHugh’s opinion, is a balance in town government. McHugh’s election to the Board of Finance would make an even split between parties, three Democrats and three Republicans.
“I am doing this for the right reasons,” McHugh said. “We have no checks and balances — and that’s not to say every decision is wrong — but when no opposing viewpoint is considered, how do you know there wasn’t a better solution?”
She doesn’t believe that the Herbst Administration has been affordable for residents.
“I have to pay the same tax rate as everyone else,” McHugh said. “We bought this house six years ago and every cost has doubled. To tell me my taxes are staying low when other fees are piling up is not giving the whole story.”
As to local issues, several current problems come to mind, she said, including the need to get roads paved at Stern Village. She also wants to explore potential solutions and better ways of providing services in town, like leaf pick-up.
She is worried that the town isn’t planning for the future.
“I think some decisions by our town have been shortsighted,” McHugh said. “Like the school redistricting — what’s really our long-term plan. We have older school buildings in need of renovation.”
For example, she mentions pulling the pool project out of the high school renovation.
“The audit of Trumbull High renovation found that one of our biggest problems was not putting the pool out to bid,” she said. “We’ve spent more than a million rehabbing it and to save a dollar we pulled out the project. We should have put it out to bid; that didn’t mean we were going to spend that money, but it may have been more cost effective in the long run to consider it.”
Trumbull GOP has accused McHugh of being for reckless school spending and supporting an 11.6% spending increase in a past budget cycle.
“They say I supported a 11.6% spending increase,” she said. “How can I support a budget that never actually was. Just because I spoke out about priorities that were important to spend money on doesn’t mean that I supported an increase like that. There are other ways to do it (meaning where to apply cuts).”
While the GOP has cited McHugh as speaking against full-day kindergarten, she explained her longtime support for a full-day program.
“I advocated for it for 10 years,” she said “I just thought that the timing was wrong and that there were other priorities coming from the schools at the time. What did we give up to have that program? It’s not always about agreeing with the popular political choice.”
McHugh, who has been making phone calls and going door-to-door, said she hopes the community will come out and use their right to vote July 22.
If elected, McHugh said if she doesn’t know the answer, she will do her research.
“If I don’t know the answer I can find out, and I’m willing to do the work, ask questions and listen to people who do understand,” she said. “You can’t have an answer before questions are asked.”