It’s Budget Time

There may be no more boring, nor more important, than the town budget process. Once the school and town side budgets are released, every member of the RTM gets copies of these 300+ page each tome. We have a few weeks to fully absorb the data and then come to sit in the audience for the combined hearings held by the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance.

One or two members of the public turn up for these multi-hour dramas unless there’s something that concerns them personally. What’s interesting is, during the campaign season, everyone complains about the taxes but few bother to learn why they seem so high. Invariably, the answer has to do with the fixed costs associated with contracts salaries and benefits, utilities, and the like. The wiggle room is finite and that’s where the tax increase can be magnified or trimmed.

Reading the budget can be like reading a long dry book, and you seek the story. What was trimmed and why. Is there a theme to the trims on either the town or school side? You look at some of the capital request items and you wonder why. You see how many departments request part-time or full time additions to the staff and wonder if they’re justified, especially if the request is not granted in the First Selectman’s recommended budget.

I’ve found a theme and one I want to explore, if possible, at Thursday night’s budget hearing.

Last night’s hearing was highlighted by the arrival of seven teens, all coming to speak in favor of a $225,000 skate park to replace the poor excuse we have for one. They came having done their research, showing sample schematics of other Connecticut parks that work and spoke very well for their cause. No doubt they’re going to get this non-recurring capital expense.

When I left, just after 11, they were still probing whether or not we’re properly funding the retiree benefit accounts and if not, will that hurt our AAA bond rating. As the questions continued, I came to recognize I heard these very same comments and questions on the very same topic last year.

There may be a better way of doing this process and it’s something I hope the BOS and BOF discuss once this budget is put to rest in early May. Its important work, but I think we bog down in minutia when we have larger issues to examine when it comes to spending tax dollars.