In South Windsor, core Republicans oppose mayor-minority coalition on budget decisions
By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
South Windsor - posted Thu., May. 16, 2013
It was a heated and circuitous process taken by town councilors on Monday, May 13, to adopt the general town budget for fiscal year 2013-14. After more than four hours, the council voted on a $34,810,522 town government budget (to be added to the Board of Education's $68,123,940 budget), set the mill rate to 34.90, and approved taking $400,000 from the town's savings in the fund balance.
The council had the general manager's draft budget figure of $35,101,830 as a springboard, but anxiety vocalized by residents prompted Mayor Thomas Delnicki to take a stirring course of action. “I got the calls, the e-mails, the people stopping by, the concerns and the angst about what was going on,” Delnicki said. “So I took an unprecedented action... I called the minority leader.” Delnicki met with Democrat Keith Yagaloff, and came up with a $34,744,580 budget, to be balanced by $800,000 from the fund balance.
Delnicki's proposal represented a marked break from his Republican colleagues, particularly in the wake of suggested expenditure additions previously introduced by Councilor Kevin McCann.
McCann had called for the addition of a full police position (as opposed to the half position favored by Delnicki), the full funding of the pension fund for town employees, and improvements to athletic facilities. Together, these expenditures would total more than $800,000. He also called for the reduction by half of the $800,000 taken from the fund balance. By his calculations, new revenues would even out the added spending.
“Where we want to be is a more fiscally sound town, and a better town,” said McCann. “We can't afford to stand by the status quo. If we don't improve, we will deteriorate.”
Supporters lauded the plan as a fiscally responsible move to both maintain a strong bond rating and invest in the town while the time is ripe. “Have we built any new projects in the lowest interest rate environment we probably will ever see in our time? We haven't,” said Councilor Cindy Beaulieu.
Councilors Gary Bazzano, Janice Snyder and Beaulieu joined McCann in supporting an amendment to reflect his suggestions, but were turned down, 5-4, by Cary Prague, Edward Havens, Saud Anwar, Yagaloff and Delnicki.
However, Bazzano, Beaulieu, McCann and Snyder were joined by Prague in defeating an amendment, supported by Havens, Anwar, Yagaloff and Delnicki, to maintain the $800,000 taken from the fund balance. As a result, the amount was set to $400,000.
After the vote, Yagaloff said the fund balance should be used during difficult economic times to mitigate the tax burden, instead of “sitting unused.” With less relief coming from the town's savings, the resulting increase in the mill rate is “just sticking it to the taxpayers,” he said.
The public comments that came before the council's deliberation revealed the anxiety residents felt in regards to the budget process.
Larry Torff, after applauding the transparency of the Board of Education budget process, condemned how the council conducted its process. “Does the town follow a strategic plan? No. Did the Town Council provide the town manager budget guidelines? Nada,” said Torff. He also criticized the “conspirators working behind the scenes” to introduce new expenditures, a reference to McCann's suggestions. “South Windsor has been a great place to live. In fact, in September 2011, CNN Money ranked South Windsor the 38th best small town in the country,” he said. However, he attributed a sudden shift in culture to new councilors, whose policy is to “tax, borrow and figure out how to pay for it later.”
Resident and frequent commenter Don Gonsalves was scathing in his assessment of the council. He expressed his frustration with the practice of town departments, particularly the BOE, going over budget and taking from the fund balance without returning those funds. He also called for a public review of how pension plans and town healthcare plans are funded. “The original budget should stand,” he concluded. “Anything that is in addition to the original budget is absolutely off the wall.”
Resident Debra Morrison had a simple but earnest request of the council. “My agenda is, I want to stay here,” Morrison said. “When my husband and I retire, we want to continue to be a part of this community. I'm not asking for a lot. Just be fiscally responsible.”