McCoy's budget is promising, but RDA is concerned

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon - posted Fri., Mar. 25, 2011
Mayor Jason McCoy walks through the Tri-town Cruzers car show - part of last fall's 'Rockville Fest' -- an event put on by the Rockville Community Alliance, but one which the Rockville Downtown Association hopes to be a larger part of in the future. File photo by Steve Smith.
Mayor Jason McCoy walks through the Tri-town Cruzers car show - part of last fall's 'Rockville Fest' -- an event put on by the Rockville Community Alliance, but one which the Rockville Downtown Association hopes to be a larger part of in the future. File photo by Steve Smith.

Vernon Mayor Jason McCoy has presented a budget of $79.35 million for 2011-2012. The spending plan is a .81 increase over the current budget, but the increase in grand list growth, McCoy said, will actually decrease the mill rate from 30.02 to 29.62 mills.

“We had some growth in our grand list,” McCoy said, “and we're anticipating there are another bunch of projects that are finally going to come in. The spending went up, but the revenue went up slightly.”

McCoy's budget cuts the Board of Education’s requested budget of $47.56 million by $96,601, or 0.2 percent.

Much of that savings, McCoy said, was due to negotiating the health insurance contracts of school system employees along with those of town employees, as well as decreases in property/casualty insurance.

McCoy said his feel was that the national economy is showing signs of picking up, and that would lead to potentially more increases in the town's grand list. He said there are also some forthcoming changes to personnel in the town development office, in order to handle that growth.

“It's probably the right time,” he said. “You're going to start seeing businesses come back and invest in municipalities, or open up stores. I believe we'll probably do better than our estimated revenue.”

McCoy added that he anticipates a few commercial projects, including a hotel on Route 83, and some commercial properties near Exit 67, will be entering the permitting phase soon, netting the town more in fees.

Consolidation of some town agencies and a recent history of negotiations with employees' unions have also helped the budget stay nearly flat.

“Some contracts from three years ago are now starting to impact this budget,” he said, adding that there are others on the way.

As with most budgets, not everyone is pleased.

Cliff Edwards, director of the Rockville Downtown Association, was disappointed to learn that Mayor Jason McCoy's proposed budget includes $0 for the RDA.

Last year, citing the national and state economic climate, the town council chose to include just $1 for the RDA line item in the budget, effectively just as a placeholder.

“They did that, I assume, so there would still be a line item to deal with in the coming budget year,” Edwards said, adding that the RDA existed solely on its own fundraising and membership dues for the past year.

To him the $1 difference is significant.

“It's not a huge loss, financially,” Edwards said, “but its a huge statement, morally.”

McCoy said that most of the RDA-led functions are funded through the Parks and Recreation budget, including the popular 'July in the Sky' event, annually on July 1, which is done in conjunction with the Parks and Rec. Department.

“Whatever we paid offline last year, is in the Parks' budget,” McCoy said.

But, the town, which used to provide funding essentially for the part-time salary of the RDA Director position, hasn't allocated any funds for the past two years, save that $1.

Edwards said he is disappointed that town leaders don't seem to find any value in what the RDA does (citing some criticism of past RDA directors) especially after he has made it a regular practice to appear before the town council, giving them full reports on projects and financial status since he took over at the RDA.

“I have delivered to them everything they said was lacking from my predecessor,” Edwards said. “If there was the general widespread feeling that we weren't delivering, I wish somebody would have clued me in before.”

The RDA's budget, prior to being just $1, ranged between $15,000 and $30,000. Edwards said the modest “asking price” of $14,550 would be enough for the RDA to fund all of its programs, including the “July in the Sky” celebration.

That amount pales in comparison, Edwards said, to the 6 and 7-digit sums allotted to other town departments that, in his opinion, do not serve as many residents of Vernon.

McCoy said that the difference of $1 was of no intended significance, and since the budget is not yet final, and the town council is the final authority of what is approved or not, there is still a chance that the request of $14,550 will be included. He added that there are typically shifts in the budget numbers before it is finalized, and that such a move is certainly possible.

RDA has the ability to charge for permits at events, McCoy said, in order to raise some of the needed funds, and the town has been willing to provided other funding.

Last June, Edwards appeared before the town council to request $3,000 for the 'July in the Sky' event, which was approved. McCoy said that amount is in the Parks budget this year.

McCoy said the problems with the RDA of the past may still be lingering, at least in the minds of some people.

In an e-mailed statement, Edwards followed that up by saying that 74,000 residents were serviced by the RDA's programs during the past year.

“We feel that our impact on the quality of life in the town is substantial,” the statement said.

The statement also said that the RDA's actual budget is approximately $42,600. “We plan to make up the difference ourselves with memberships, sponsorships, grants and other fund raising efforts,” Edwards' statement said.

If the town were to fund the RDA (at $14,550) Edwards said, the organization could then spend more of its time doing what it was supposed to do, rather than spending its time raising funds for its own survival.

“This puts us at a loss,” Edwards said, “because now you have to spend an inordinate amount of time doing fundraising to restore what you lost from the town. That's really not what our mission is.”

Edwards said it has been largely due to volunteers that the organization has continued to exist, but without any town funding, the future is uncertain.

“We're in the position that if we have another year like this, we could very well disappear,” he said. “That would be a shame.”

Early this week, Edwards sent out a rally cry to supporters of the RDA, urging them to come to the town council budget hearing on March 26.

“I really hope that we can get them to see that we are not here to hurt the town of Vernon,” Edwards said. “We are here to benefit the town of Vernon.”

There is also a public budget hearing set for April 25 at Rockville High School.



RDA has been an inspiring energizer and unifier of the Downtown Business Establishment for 10 years now.
They deserve more than a dirty storefront and bad attitude. It's too difficult. Restoration of the RDA office building ?
Or simply take it down and make nice greenspace, moving the office to a nicer spot?

The kind and pleasant atmosphere is so good here, and yet the downtown business area is probably supposed to "get with it" and shine up to be more in keeping with the times and the beautifully restored and renovated classic Connecticut Historic Town Hall Park area.

In my Arts/redcross path for the past 20 years back home in Connecticut, I have seen this upgrade in many places in the state, and I think maybe if RDA and Downtown Business want more, they must be willing to get up and jog around the block for it.

Fan of RDA ..... AND ....Rockville

Elle Fagan

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