Letter: Town Council Republicans reflect on budget vote
To the Editor:
The Town Council (TC) convened on the 2016-2017 budget Tuesday, April 19, 2016. We thank the Town Administration, department heads, boards and committees for their tremendous effort in presenting us with the concise and efficient budget on which we were to vote.
We are proud that the TC Republicans led a unified effort to restore the Police Department’s full time salary line, to the Chief’s request, allowing for the promotion of two new lieutenants and funding for the requested Student Resource Officers. This initiative was unanimously agreed by the TC to be essential for the safety and well-being to our community, and was passed by the Council Republicans. In addition, we were also pleased to increase funding to our EMS Department allowing for expanded coverage on weekends.
Further, we echo the sentiment written and voiced by many compassionate residents and advocacy groups such as the PTSA and PTA, that we need to continue to move our school system forward and reach for new heights. We agree with the goal of continuing to move in the right direction.
In response to some confusion regarding fully funding the Board of Education (BOE) line item, we would like to address some misinformation regarding our role in the budget approval process. The Council unanimously supported funding the BOE to the maximum amount allowed by the Town Charter, which is limited to increasing any line item beyond the higher of the First Selectman’s or Board of Finance’s proposed budget amounts. The Republican members voted unanimously to pass the BOE budget at the maximum level allowed.
At the time of this vote, the Council members were all aware of the ongoing negotiations between the TEA and the Town to settle the grievances filed after the Board of Education voted to move the union membership to the State Partnership Health Plan in February. However, the TC had no authority to negotiate the matter or increase funding to cover the cost of the current plan in the event the grievances were not dismissed or settled.
We remain hopeful and confident these issues will be resolved to benefit the teachers long-term, as well as, our schools and Town in the savings recognized.
As TC Representatives, it would have been irresponsible to avoid voting for a budget due to a line item that is not only out of our control to negotiate, but one which by Town Charter we are unable to increase. It is our obligation to conduct the Town’s business for the whole of the Town and not to use the Council Floor for political grandstanding or for the benefit of only one department over others. We found it unfortunate that although our Democrat colleagues were aware of the maximum level of funding the Council could vote on, and although they voiced support for the departments, they all chose to abstain party line and did not vote to fund the BOE, Police or any other Department in our Town.
The TC Republicans were happy to vote to approve a budget that not only fully funds our education, pensions, police, public works, parks and recreation, and other departments, but
provides the opportunity for no tax increase next year. We thank everyone who took the time to meet with us and come out to be heard. Together we will continue to move our town forward.