Town Council finalizes budget

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Wed., Mar. 23, 2011
David Brooks urges the council to look at the 'cumulative effect' of the budget increases. Photos by Steve Smith.
David Brooks urges the council to look at the 'cumulative effect' of the budget increases. Photos by Steve Smith.

The Glastonbury Town Council narrowly approved a $137.7 million spending plan – a 1.8-percent increase that will raise the tax rate by just 1.35 percent.

The vote passed 5-4, and the residents at the final budget public hearing were equally as divided.

Hebron Avenue resident David Brooks said that, while the budget is only increasing by 1.8 percent, the council should consider the long-term increase to taxpayers.

“What bothers me is the cumulative effect,” he said. “As I'm approaching retirement, I realize my main expense will be my property taxes.”

“All governments steal from their citizens,” Richard Kelly of Dayton Road said, half-jokingly, adding that he believes state and federal taxes will increase by 14 to 18 percent.

“I would like to see the town, as well as the schools, get to an absolute bare-bones [budget],” he said, “because it's not going to get better. It's going to get worse.”

Resident Heather Summers said she supports the budget, since it will increase the teachers at the high school and reduce class sizes.

“As you get into the high school, and you have larger and larger populations,” she said, “it's so necessary to be able to keep our kids engaged and to give them the opportunities they need, because this represents the final stage of their education here in Glastonbury.”

Chip Geer, frequent critic of the Board of Education, said the increase to the board's budget will likely mean more taxes in the future.

“While it might make us feel all good about ourselves to do everything we can for the children, this gold-plated school system of ours will have to face a day of reckoning at some point,” Geer said.

Geralyn Labas, a Strickland Street resident, urged the town to keep the education budget as is.

“We need to make sure we are investing in the education we have,” she said, addressing those who spoke before her. “If we do not keep our education up here to make people want to move here, with or without children, what's your house's value going to be worth?”

The council voted 5-4 to approve the plan. Those opposed said that given the economic downturn and the effects of higher state taxes, they would like to have seen a budget with no increase.

“While the media has reported glimpses of economic improvement in recent months,” said councilman Bob Zanlungo, “I'm not convinced this has filtered down to Main Street, USA yet.”

Councilwoman Michele Jacklin said she voted against the budget because she believes Glastonbury passes its budget too soon.

“I believe that we approve a budget and set a mill rate much too early,” she said, adding that too much of the budget was deliberated on while making assumptions about what state funding would be. She cited the $885,000 in state monies from last year, which it was assumed would be cut entirely. However, Gov. Dannel Malloy's proposed budget returns $675,000 to Glastonbury.

Jacklin said the town still has no idea what it will receive, since the legislature has yet to pass the state budget.

“We are going to approve a budget with blinders on,” she said.

“While a zero-increase might be unattainable,” Councilman Kurt Cavanaugh said, “I cannot support a budget that increases taxes at this time. It's tough out there, and it might be tougher out there than I actually realize.”

Cavanaugh added that the town charter states the early budget dates so that there is enough time for citizens to call for a referendum, if they wish to do so.

Those who voted in favor of the plan said they, too, would like to see a zero budget, but the long term costs would be too great.

“It would be wonderful if we could wave a magic wand,” said Councilwoman Marti Curtiss, “and present a budget that would cut taxes, provide for our marvelous school system and make sure that we had every service in town anybody would demand. The reality is we have to make some tough choices.”

Councilwoman Carol Ahlschlager said the Board of Education budget replaces some teachers that were cut last year, but also responsibly puts off anything non-essential. She added that cutting town services and infrastructure maintenance would require costly emergency repairs down the road.

“What good would a zero-percent increase do this year, when next year you would almost inevitably expose yourself to a 5, 6, or 7 percent increase to make up for what happened this year,” she said.

Council Chair Susan Karp, who, for the second year, spoke last and carried the deciding vote, agreed, and turned attention to what the proposed budget accomplishes without surrendering necessities.

“It does not eliminate needed staff,” she said. “It does not increase class sizes to levels that are harmful to our children. It does not close buildings. It does not reduce services or hours of operation at our community center, our library or anywhere else. It does not ignore our ongoing capital needs, nor does it put our fiscal health, our educational excellence, or our outstanding town service in jeopardy for the coming year. In my mind, that is quite an accomplishment.”

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