Silber: Budget is 'adding and padding'

Editor's Note: This is a town Democrat's take on First Selectman Tim Herbst's budget proposal, submitted as a press release. See Herbst's original budget message here.

Trumbull Democratic District Leader and Planning and Zoning Commission Member Tony Silber described First Selectman Tim Herbst’s 2015-2016 proposed budget as setting the wrong priorities for the community, in a statement issued this week.

Silber noted that while Herbst is presenting his proposal as a modest increase in spending and taxes, the actual year-over-year increase isn’t small—$3.4 million—and the two-year increase is close to $8 million. “Does First Selectman Herbst think it’s okay to add eight million dollars in new town spending every two years?” Silber asked. “When does it become too much for a town that is not growing in population? At what point will it stop, if ever?”

When you consider the larger trendlines in this budget, Silber said, they add up to a never-ending pattern of rising taxes, and a more recent trend of bare-bones school budgets. And what’s more, this budget cuts senior services and eliminates funding for the Trumbull Youth Department, which for more than 40 years has helped produce iconic community theater.

One of the most memorable things Herbst said about the budget was in a newspaper article published last week. Trumbull, he said, should aspire to be more like Shelton.

The article in the Trumbull Times said this:

“Herbst mentioned Shelton’s mayor as an example of what can be done on a tight budget. “If Mark Lauretti can reduce an operating budget to levels well below those in Trumbull, implement full-day kindergarten and eliminate pay to participate fees, then our Board of Education needs to make it work as well.”

While Trumbull may want to model its economic development after Shelton, Silber said, a comparison of our schools shows that Trumbull outranks Shelton in several critical and measurable areas. For example:

  • Shelton has a high school graduation rate of 91 percent. Trumbull’s is 97 percent.
  • Eighty-one percent of Shelton’s graduating seniors pursue a higher degree. In Trumbull, that rate is 97 percent.
  • Trumbull outscores Shelton in 10 out of 10 categories in CMT and CAPT testing.

“If the Trumbull Board of Education wants our schools to improve, it should look to the higher-performing districts,” Silber said. “Mr. Herbst is suggesting just the opposite.”

And to describe the budget as being as lean as possible, as Herbst has, is contrary to some of the facts. Mr. Herbst adds a $50,000 executive assistant position for the director of labor relations. He adds a $95,000 position for a new Director of Parks and Recreation, even though we already have an $87,000 Director of Recreation and an $85,000 Superintendent of Parks. He even holds aside funds for a substantial raise for himself and other town executives.

As all this money is being added to the budget, funding for senior services and youth programming is actually declining. Herbst has proposed eliminating a part-time position for a senior-services bus driver. And while one of his stated priorities is improvement of the senior center, he’s left unspent a $150,000 grant for the center’s kitchen. And he has totally eliminated funding for the Trumbull Youth Department.

“Actions speak louder than words,” Silber said. “Mr. Herbst talks a lot about senior services, so why is he eliminating a bus driver? This means that seniors dependent on the bus might now be turned away. The whole thing begins to feel like lip service.”

The First Selectman talks a lot about reducing municipal fees, but he’s asked for a nearly $600,000 cut in the school budget, while at the same time challenging the school administration to eliminate pay-to-participate fees. Said Silber: “Eliminating these fees, while implementing the proposed cut, requires identifying almost $1 million in reductions. That’s a big challenge.”

“This whole budget doesn’t seem like the “smaller and smarter,” budget the First Selectman touts,” Silber said. “This is more like adding and padding, at the expense of constituencies that need and deserve our support.”

Perhaps most importantly, several things are clearly missing from this budget: Vision and big ideas that will help Trumbull move forward for the next decade.

  • Initiatives that speak to the unacceptable state of Trumbull Center.
  • A Riverwalk in Trumbull Center, or a vibrant new pedestrian-friendly mixed-use residential and commercial center there.
  • A “Trumbull 20/20” plan for the schools for the next five years, addressing physical needs as well as declining enrollment, curriculum, and technology.
  • Using data to enhance municipal services, in law enforcement and other areas, while reducing costs.
  • A commitment to long-term planning on quality-of-life items, like sidewalks.
  • Programs to benefit the entire community, like a townwide wi-fi system.
  • A continuous improvement approach to municipal efficiency, which could finally reverse the cycle of spending and tax increases.

“Mr. Herbst’s budget has a perfunctory feel, like an election-year placeholder put together by a politician who wants to move up in his career,” Silber said. “Trumbull is a great town. It can be better for all—from kids, to families and seniors.”