Herbst responds to Mark's criticism of sewer fees
Editor's Note: First Selectman Timothy Herbst responded Tuesday to a press release sent out by Democratic Town Council member, Martha Jankovic-Mark, who is running against him in November. Herbst responded to each of Mark's points individually.
It's unfortunate that Ms. Mark does not understand how town government operates. The rate increase that Mrs. Mark is referring to was negotiated 20 years ago under the administration of Democratic First Selectman David Wilson. A decision was made a long time ago to enter into a 20 year contract with Bridgeport. Trumbull taxpayers are now the victims of this poor decision making. My administration, through the WPCA has filed two different lawsuits to prevent further outrageous increases from Bridgeport. Further, we are exploring other options to deal with wastewater management that would discontinue our relationship with Bridgeport.
Every day when we pick up the newspaper, we see how poorly the City of Bridgeport is being managed, including the operations of their WPCA. The same political operatives that now run Bridgeport used to have their claws in Trumbull. Make no mistake about it, under a Mark administration, I can guarantee you that those same special interests will be back in Trumbull calling the shots and there will be a regional sewer authority with Bridgeport where Mrs. Mark will give away the store. This will not happen on my watch.
A few months ago, Town Attorney Dennis Kokenos invited any and all council members to join the WPCA in executive session to talk about the lawsuits and engage in a dialogue to assist the WPCA in finding ways to reduce rates and educate the members about the issues. Ms. Mark did not attend one meeting. This is why she has no understanding of these issues. This is why she “Misses the Mark.”
As I said in my acceptance speech, Trumbull Democrats are very good at telling you what they are against, rather than what they stand for. The question in this campaign is when will Mrs. Mark tell us what she plans to do and how she plans to pay for it.
On spending criticism:
The taxpayers of Trumbull do not need a first selectman who will be deceitful for political gain. That is exactly how Mrs. Mark and the Trumbull Democratic Party have chosen to begin this campaign. If Mrs. Mark has a problem with town spending, she should talk to the leaders of her party that have a 5-2 Democratic majority on the Board of Education. The Board of Education represents two thirds of the Town total budget and Democrats on the Board of Education have voted to increase their budget by more than 10% in a two year period.
Regarding the 17% increase in non-education spending that Mrs. Mark references, what she is not telling the taxpayers of Trumbull is that the biggest drivers in that number are costs that are associated with the Board of Education. In this year's budget, Town departments saw an increase of 1.9%. The Board of Education saw an increase of 2.74%.
Over the last four years, pension contributions (which include Board of Education non-certified employees) saw an increase of 91.63%. When I came into office, our pension fund was in very bad shape and I made a commitment to address the problem. Four years ago, the annual pension contributions under my predecessor to the Town and police pension fund were $3,275,000. Today, the annual contribution is $6,276,000.
The pension fund was grossly neglected and mismanaged by previous Democratic administrations. On their watch, the annual funding was inadequate while they grew the size of government and the number of employees that were pension eligible.
Rather than kick the can, we dealt with the problem. If we did not deal with this problem the Town's bond rating and financial position would have been compromised. These increases to annual pension contributions follow recommendations from Town financial advisors and all three bond rating agencies. Fitch, Moody's and S&P have all publicly lauded my administration's approach to dealing with the pension fund.
Workman's Compensation and Liability Insurance (which also covers the Board of Education) over the same four year period saw an increase of 8.58%.
Debt service is money we borrow for capital projects. Mrs. Mark and Trumbull Democrats borrowed 120 million in a five year period when they supported a 73 million dollar renovation of Trumbull High School and gave Mark IV Construction an open check book in Jog Hill and North Nichols.
Over the last four years, this borrowing came due and debt service increased by 17.84%.
So, here are a few questions for Mrs. Mark. When you reference the 17%, are you now saying that we should have ignored the financial rating agencies and not developed an aggressive plan to deal with the Town pension fund? Are you saying we should not honor our financial obligations and pay back the money you voted to borrow?
Mrs. Mark's comments and that of her party are the height of hypocrisy. In essence, this is their election strategy: be responsible for neglecting the pension fund, borrow in excess of 120 million dollars over five years and then blame the people who replaced you for cleaning up your mess and solving the problems you created.
Not only is Mrs. Mark lying to the taxpayers, but she is also running people on her ticket who created the mess. Kathy McGannon wants to return to the Board of Finance. Mrs. McGannon voted with the Baldwin administration to increase taxes 54% in eight years, voted to consistently underfund pensions below actuarial recommended levels and supported tax increases that averaged 6% a year.
Add to that equation Mr. Tom Tesoro, candidate for the Board of Education, who served on the Board of Finance with Mrs. McGannon. As members of the Board of Finance, Mrs. McGannon and Mr. Tesoro rubber stamped the high school renovation and the sewer projects that have cost taxpayers in excess of 120 million, without doing their due diligence and asking the tough questions. They even rammed through the North Nichols project 6 weeks before an election and allowed contracts to be executed that did not have termination provisions that would have provided the Town a way out.
As a result of their reckless judgment, the Town is now in civil litigation on Contract 3 (Jog Hill) and arbitration on Contract 4 (North Nichols). It has been reported by the Connecticut Post, the Trumbull Times and Trumbull Patch that these sewer projects are now the subject of a federal investigation. The high school project has been a huge disappointment, now more than a year overschedule and we are now proceeding with an audit of this project. We don't need to return to the old way of doing things in Trumbull.
North Nichols Project:
The North Nichols sewer project should have never started to begin with after the mess in Jog Hill. The project had cost overruns, like every other project before it because the projects were not properly bid and did not comport to accepted purchasing practices.
When Mark IV Construction raises thousands of dollars for the Democratic Town Committee in political donations, and gives a $50,000 cash donation every year for the Town to hold a summer concert, it is no wonder why the previous first selectman and his team did not want to hold this contractor accountable.
People like Kathy McGannon and Tom Tesoro, who are running on Mrs. Mark's ticket, should apologize to the taxpayers of Trumbull for giving Manny Moutinho and Mark IV Construction free reign and an open checkbook. They approved this unbalanced bidding and they approved this bonding without asking the tough questions and without demanding accountability. This mess was created on their watch and they need to be held accountable.
When we pave roads, those roads should have a 25 year useful life. Anything with a 25 year useful life is a capital cost. Those costs that benefit the homeowner only should be reflected in the sewer assessment. Those costs that benefit every taxpayer in the Town should be paid for by the Town. Every Trumbull resident uses the roads in Trumbull and the cost of road paving should be borne by the Town and not hidden in a sewer assessment.
If Mrs. Mark has a problem with pay to participate fees, she should talk to her party which holds a 5-2 majority on the Board of Education and has controlled the Board of Education for 6 out of the last 8 years. Tom Kelly, a Democrat on the BOE talks often about pay to participate fees. He is now running on Mrs. Mark's ticket for Board of Finance. Mr. Kelly talks a good game about fiscal discipline yet voted to increase the Board of Education budget in excess of 10% over a two year period. This 10% increase did not budget for a pay to participate reduction or some form of stabilization.
I think the 5 Democrats on the Board of Education need to explain to the taxpayers of Trumbull why they voted to increase the BOE budget by more than 10% in two years and not budget for a reduction or stabilization of pay to participate fees. They should also explain why they recently allowed a 35% increase in band participation fees that was in violation of Board of Education policy.
On Herbst’s fiscal management:
In the 8 years preceding my administration, the Baldwin administration increased taxes 54%, with an average annual tax increase on their watch of 6%, twice the rate of inflation. On our watch, the average annual tax increase has been 1.88%, which is below inflation. This is one of the lowest four year averages in Fairfield County.