Residents approve $79 million spending plan

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon - posted Thu., Apr. 28, 2011
Voters wait in line to show proof of residency before being allowed into the Vernon Town Meeting on April 26. Photos by Steve Smith.
Voters wait in line to show proof of residency before being allowed into the Vernon Town Meeting on April 26. Photos by Steve Smith.

At an April 28 meeting that started almost an hour late due to a staffing snafu, Vernon residents approved a budget of $79.2 million for 2011-2012.

The delay was due to only having two town staffers available to verify the identification of the more than 120 registered voters who showed up at the town meeting at the Rockville High School auditorium.

Mayor Jason McCoy said he felt the budget was a good one.

“There's a slight increase of .73 percent,” he said. “We have the mill rate going down to 29.90 percent. No services are being cut, and taxes are going down.”

McCoy thanked the town council and town staff for their work on the budget, and added that revenues have been “problematic.”

“We're hoping to change some of that, and work a little harder to bring in some revenue,” he said. “We can only go so far to bring in revenue.”

But, the proposed budget was not without criticism.

Councilman James Krupienski said he felt the town council approved the amount too hastily.

“The budget wasn't even fully discussed by this council,” Krupienski said. “At least nine different accounts, including our capital improvements, were simply pushed through with amendments — changes to the budget — [to which] any sane person would have said, 'What just happened?' and many of us did that day.”

Krupienski said he wished that the council would revisit the budget.

“There are changes and cuts that can still be made in this budget,” he said, adding that he also thought three Saturday sessions were not enough to thoroughly examine the budget.

“If it's three meetings or 30 meetings,” Krupienski said, “it is still the requirement of us to go through it, piece by piece, to determine if there are changes to be making, [and] go to bat for the good of the town itself.”

Resident James Chiklis asked what the highest paid town employees' salaries were, because of a news story he'd seen about a town in California where some officials were ousted after it was discovered they were earning more than $ 1million.

“I would like to ensure that everyone in this building knows that we don't have any of that going on here in our town,” Chiklis said, adding that he could not find the information on the Internet.

Superintendent of Schools Mary Conway was quick to answer Chikliss, saying that she and other administrators were most likely the highest paid town employee, and that her office would gladly share the information with any resident.

“There are other central office people that make certainly over $100,000,” Conway said, “and my administrators as well, under their collective bargaining agreements.”

Resident Carl Schaefer asked about a wage adjustment line item in the budget of $82,523.

“My question is, where are the wage adjustments going to?” Schaefer asked. “Is it for Public Works? Is it for John Ward?”

McCoy said portions of those monies are for contingencies based on negotiations with certain town employees, and possible changes in employees' salaries, depending on the outcomes of those collective bargaining agreements.

“There's money set aside for wage increases, HSA, and non-union employee increases,” McCoy said, adding that the town employee agreements that have been negotiated already are for zero-increases, but there are some that are still pending.

Resident Herbert Slicer complained about the line to get into the meeting.

“I'm 80 years old now, and I had to stand for half an hour, waiting to get in here to talk to my representatives and vote,” he said. “I don't know who's in charge, but they ought to take some time to think some of these things through.”

Slicer added that he disliked the budget.

“I think it's money that is not well spent, not well thought out,” he said.

Town Administrator John Ward took responsibility for the delay.

“I apologize,” Ward said. “I would have preferred that I'd set it up differently so people did not have to wait.”

The audience voted in favor of the budget as is, with only a single-digit number of people voting against, and abstentions, which included council members Krupienski, Marie Herbst, and Pauline Schaefer.

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