Budget workshop focuses on tough decisions

By Nicole Michaud - Staff Writer
Windsor - posted Thu., Feb. 10, 2011
Windsor Town Manager Peter Souza responds to citizens' concerns about the 2012 budget plans. Photo by Nicole Michaud.
Windsor Town Manager Peter Souza responds to citizens' concerns about the 2012 budget plans. Photo by Nicole Michaud.

Residents gathered at Town Hall on Feb. 9 to participate in the second phase of a three-part budget workshop series designed to get community input on important budget decisions facing town officials for fiscal year 2012. Led by Town Manager Peter Souza, the informal and interactive workshop allowed residents to voice their opinions, raise concerns and provide suggestions. 

During the first hour of the event, Souza detailed the projected loss revenue and increases in projected expenditures facing the town that equal a deficit of approximately $4.3 million, resulting in a possible 5.7-percent tax increase. “We all know that’s not going to be acceptable to the voters in May,” Souza said. A minimum of a 2.5-percent tax increase would be necessary to make up for the loss revenue projections of approximately $1.9 million. While some residents in attendance at the workshop understood the need for a tax increase, they agreed that many residents will be unable to manage such an increase in the current economic climate. Over the past six years, residents have seen an average tax increase of .61 percent. 

The second part of the session was dedicated to educating audience members on the costs of managing a town that consists of 136 miles of road and 146 restaurants requiring state mandated health inspections.

Souza also revealed costs associated with the up-keep of catch basins according to Environmental Protection Agency clean water standards, as well as the annual cost of $795,000 to run the volunteer fire department. During the workshop, audience members were polled on their knowledge of town statistics.

While Souza planned to discuss various alternatives to the tax increase with residents, the discussion portion of the event never got past the first topic – a $400,000 pavement management project. The majority of the residents in attendance agreed that while roadways are important, the workshop should focus on the types of issues that are facing the community and the future during a deficit. “The fabric of our community is more important than the concrete beneath our feet,” resident Susan Kirshner-Robinson said.  

Residents preferred to hear recommendations and participate in discussions about social services that support residents, especially when Souza informed the group that cutting services is a possibility in an effort to reduce the tax increase. He reported that every 1-percent decrease in taxes requires officials to find an approximate $750,000 to $800,000 decrease in expenditures.

Others hoped to hear how town officials plan to run the town differently to protect the future and avoid additional deficits. “Nickel and diming the budget isn’t the answer,” said Marty Seinko, president of the Connecticut Community Gardening Association. “The answer is a complete paradigm shift of how you run the organization.”

Souza assured the audience that their concerns and recommendations are at the forefront of his and fellow town officials’ minds as they continue to plan the budget. He asked that citizens continue conversations outside of the forum. “I hope that folks, before they vote on the budget, that they are able to have conversations like this and understand the depth of the choices, so it isn’t simply a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ just because, but this is what it means to us as a community going forward,” Souza said.

A final workshop is scheduled for March 30, before the budget is presented to the town. For more information regarding the budget workshops, contact Enita Jubrey at 860-285-1835.

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