A budget referendum is a waste of money

The threat by the West Hartford Taxpayers Association to force a public referendum on the budget if it rises more than 2. 5 percent this year is pointless and ultimately wasteful.

Didn’t we learn anything from the last budget battle? People in this town, for better or worse, are ready to pay what it costs to keep our services plentiful and our schools topnotch. I happen to agree, generally, with that line of thinking, even though I can barely afford to live here now.

I sympathize with the complaints that municipal employees are compensated too generously. They are, but only in comparison to private sector counterparts. My real gripe isn’t that government workers get too much. It’s that private sector workers, including me, get too little.

Honestly, I can’t see the logic in paying for a day at the polls so that residents can endorse a budget that we really have little chance to carve down much. We can’t want all that we want and then refuse to pay the tab for it.

I’m sure if I knew the budget as well as Ms. Aron I would agree that some things in it are unnecessary or improper. But the reality is that I don’t have the spending plan details and will likely never see enough to have a clue who’s right or wrong. In the end, I mostly have to put my trust in my elected leaders.

If the town starts to slip and taxes keep rising, well, perhaps I’ll vote them out. But for now, I’m content. Uneasy perhaps, but content. And I don’t think I’m too far from the norm.

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38 Comments

Filed under budget, referendum, Town government, West Hartford, West Hartford Taxpayers Association

38 responses to “A budget referendum is a waste of money

  1. Roger Wiley

    Sad commentary … the town has already started to slip.. YOU need to read the budget and discover the mismanagement, not just sit back and say.. “just send me the bill”.
    Complacency in West Hartford is what has caused the fiscal mess we are currently experiencing..
    Referendums send a clear message.
    We really need Charter Change as well.
    The Town Council need to get off their duffs and do something about the stranglehold of binding arbitration that is choking their ability to properly manage.
    Add in MDC and it isn’t a very rosy picture.

  2. The town isn’t slipping. It’s improving.
    I’m not complacent. I simply haven’t seen anything to get upset about.

  3. E. Allen

    referendums send a clear message but don’t do much beyond that. Unless I’m mistaken, the budget can go to referendum twice and then once passed by the council they stand. Or something like that. Not to mention that I think it’s several thousands of dollars per election. Charter change I have no idea – Roger – what would charter change do, or more to the point, what would you want it to do?

  4. m&m

    How much did last year’s budget referendum cost? (Yes, I googled, to no avail.)

  5. That’s because there was no referendum last year.

    As for charter change.. we could decide to put a cap on our spending and if the cap is exceeded then an automatic referendum is held. We could also separate the education budget from the municipal budget like some other towns have done. Maybe we change the charter so that referendum’s results have more teeth to them and that the Town Council must be responsive to the people’s will in certain ways. There are a whole bunch of new rules we could institute that have worked well in other towns, and may help to make government more efficient and more responsive to the citizenry. There is nothing wrong with examining new ways of doing business, and people have floated some new ideas for awhile now. Best practices work well in other places.. why not in our town charter?

    As for the cost of referendum .. hmmm.. do we silence the voice and will of people for the cost of a vote? Do you think the voters should not be allowed to say NO? Do you think we shouldn’t have a referendum process at all? Some people think it’s just a waste of time and money. I happen to think the will of the people is quite important and quite necessary. Not having a referendum mechanism is an invitation to tyranny.

    Besides, we usually build the cost of that into our Registrar’s budgets to begin with don’t we? I thought our new voting machines were going to make the process less expensive and more streamlined.

    Sorry.. but I need to know what I am paying for, especially at these rates. That’s why I decided to look at the items in the budget book. It is quite enlightening. I actually have some sympathy for the people being forced from their homes because they can no longer afford the hefty tax increases, and I also think that it is a tragedy that we spend so much to educate our kids and then they cannot afford to live here as young adults. Have we become such a shallow society that we no longer care how these tax issues affect anyone but ourselves? And so what more will it take to make West Hartford unaffordable for you? You are uneasy now .. just wait till you see your water bill.

    But – that’s just me.. and who really cares what a “nattering nabob” like me has to say. (eye roll)

  6. m&m

    Oh right, it has been longer than that, hasn’t it? My bad.

    So how much, for instance, did the Blue Back Square referendum cost? A question quite apart from silencing the voice of the people, tyranny, give me liberty, etc.

  7. Pete Rose

    Have your referendum. I got $100 that says the budget will pass comfortably. Who wants some action?

    How can I be so sure? Judy Aron opposes it, so it has to be a sure thing to pass, right?

  8. If the public was paying attention in 04 and 05 they would have known how much the referendums cost. Each referendum costed the Town of West Hartford approximatley $20,000. For Blue Back, Mr Heapes invested over $3 Million dollars that we know of during both campaigns, do you think he didn’t think Democracy was relevant? There will be two referendums by the way so it’s double on the cost. For those who do not like that fact you will have your opportunities to come out and vote for this is the time where our elected officials become irrelevant for a time. As far as gamming Democracy thats the job of Special Interest, so keep a your hands off.

  9. m&m

    My memory lapses not in the name of the public but on my own account!

    “gamming Democracy” sounds great–get those Rockettes kicking at Town Hall. It would be a better use of the Town’s money than wasting it on a referendum that is bound to go down to defeat.

  10. Just what is the real name of your own account anyway? Your opinions with a scratch sheet approach will best be promoted over the budget referendum at the polls.

  11. m&m

    You may be right. But I enjoy the public forum. It’s so democratic, you see.

  12. Joe Visconti

    Yeah but in Democracy when you vote or register to Vote ya gotta show ID……come on don’t be afraid we don’t bite (yet) us BBSTerrorists… who are you? Did I get your signature at one time???? Did you yell out a window of a passing car at me?

  13. Pete Rose.. LOL .. good one.. you made me chuckle on that one. Time will tell though, and I don’t make those kinds of predictions. Guess you know what happened to the real Pete Rose when he made a bet…

  14. m&m

    Mr. Visconti:

    Who am I? A citizen of West Hartford.

    Did you get my signature at one time? No! I was ambivalent, but I voted in favor of Blue Back Square.

    Did I yell out of a window of a passing car at you? I’m not sure. Were you the guy in the gladiator suit?

  15. That was me, and I love to eat m&m’s… Hey, this is fun!

  16. Ted Madfis

    Services: only 60% of WH kids can read at or above State averages, how many of the rest can’t read at all. Glastonberry has 85% for less money!
    Taxes:Wait till you get your tax bill in June and the bank calls you for more more money and $100 more each m0nth. Use your Master Card, priceless
    Referendum: I bet you are not regestered or did not vote in the last election.

  17. turtle

    Eww, Mr. Visconti. I had planned on changing my name anyway.

    Ted Mafis, where did you pick up those stats, and who are you flinging that ad hominem junk to about not voting, etc.?

    You must have been out of town the day we did the math on our reval, when all of West Hartford could hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth. So, you see, we’ve got this tax bill thing all figured out.

  18. M&M ,Turtle – We Don’t Bite, Eat are Political Metaphors

  19. Vince

    I, for one, am really psyched that this has become the Joe Visconti blog. Mixed metaphors, incoherent ramblings, and, to the extent they are at times coherent, recycled ideas from debates of yore–what’s not to like about Joe? Self-promoter to the extreme, Joe re-emerges when a seat on the Council is about to open up. Transparent? Um, yeah, I’d say so.

  20. Ah my friend with no last name, one can see you do not promote transparency in identity, never mind government. Mixed metaphors? Yes, glad to see you are paying attention, and hopefully have been educated by this exercise in thinking outside the group ( another one?)….. and recycled. Sir, There is nothing new under the Sun.

  21. I don’t know Joe Visconti at all, but I’m getting quite an impression.

  22. neighbor

    He finished LAST in the town election, maybe we should just give him the appointed position of village idiot. Goes along with his incoherent ramblings!

  23. Dear Neighbor, thanx for having the courage to identify yourself, you must be the Village Ghost!

  24. TJF

    I heard the budget got adopted last night, but was blown away when I saw a mill rate of 39.39. Everything I had read prior to this said they expected a mill rate of 31.43. What happened?

  25. What happened is that they decided to phase in revaluation with a promise that the mill rate will go down to 29 mills – which is nonsense because we all know that subsequent budgets will feature more spending especially when MDC costs kick in.

    The reality is that the average tax bill will be 6.6% higher than last year! and that the Town has overinflated the projections of how much money we will be getting back from the state this year in order to claim a 1.94% tax increase, which is misleading. The reality is that proposed spending will still rise by $6.8 million (a 3.84% increase over last year) and that small cuts have only been made to proposed increases and do not reflect real cuts to existing line items. The BOE is screaming that they got $1.8 million cut and yet they are still getting 4.24% in their budget increase. I think in this budget they should consider themselves lucky that they got that much. $118.29 is more than enough.

    Needless to say a 6.6% increase to each taxpayer’s bill this year is unacceptable to the Taxpayer’s Association and they are going to petition for a referendum.

    The Town has increased their proposed overall spending by 3.48% which is above the 2.5% that the Taxpayers Association had asked for.

  26. Clarification: Overall proposed Town spending before state aid and nontax revenue is 3.48% or $6.84 million dollars more than last year.

  27. turtle

    Note the anti-public school sentiments displayed on Judy Aron’s blog.

    “It Takes a School to Bankrupt a Village”

    “My Child Is Not Left Behind: We Homeschool”

    It’s clear that Judy Aron’s vendetta against the Education Budget arises from an ideological antagonism to public education and should be disdained as such.

  28. Elliot Check

    At what point do you ask a govt, Brd of Ed etc to account for how they spend our money.

    At over $12K/child for the school system, I think we are entitled to be served a budget that is legible and coherent. A budget that does not hide $ by shifting them from account to account until you have no idea where th money is going.

    The same goes for the Town side of the budget. I have yet to hear where the $500K not spent on snowplowing this winter went? Anyone know.

    They have gotten an average of 6% a year for the last 6 years and they want another 6.6% this year in taxes. You can’t keep things going at this pace.

  29. Vince

    Well done turtle, as always.

    Judy is like the Tickle Me Elmo Doll we got my nephew a few months back–push a button and watch it say and do the same things over and over and over and over again.

    The reality is the Council LISTENED to the feedback given at the budget hearings, made tough decisions, and forced the Bd of Ed to also make some touch decisions as well.

    The Taxpayers Assoc., on the other hand, has the tendency to talk out of both sides of its mouth, and participates in the process in a way that sets itself up to be unhappy with the result whatever that result turns out to be (something I find very troubling, not to mention telling of their intentions). Following this process closely, it is apparent to me that (a) the Assoc. does not represent the majority of taxpayers I know and talk to; and (b) this incarnation of the Assoc. is impossible to please.

    Bottom line: the Town Council came to a reasonable resolution on the budget, and that fact is reflected vividly in the 8-0 bipartisan vote to approve (notably including a “yes” vote from Donatelli’s lackey Senor Sinatro).

  30. Vince

    Mr. Check: Allegations of accounting fraud are serious and should not be thrown around lightly.

  31. Elliot Check

    No allegations of fraud were made.
    A request for a clear, understandable budget was made.
    When a budget column states “transfers out” is it too much to ask where the money is going?
    It has been asked where the snow removal savings are and no answer has been forthcoming.

  32. turtle and Vince – I thought your schooling taught you to be a bit more open minded .. you obviously don’t know me or my philosophies, nor do you understand my choices or the reasons behind my criticisms. Nor do you seem to care. But that’s ok I understand how you can be insensitive. It’s hard to appreciate someone else’s experiences when they are so different from your own. Usually I don’t waste my time or my breath on folks like you, but you need to know a few things.

    I am not anti-public school.. my kids used to attend public school .. I volunteer in the schools when I can, and I pay taxes to support the schools, and I donate money to fundraisers too. Some of my best friends are teachers (and some of them left teaching school to homeschool!).
    I want public education to be the best it can be and to allow teachers to teach instead of being stifled by mandates and administrative BS. That doesn’t always translate into throwing more money at the school budget. I am anti the things that prevent the schools to be free places of learning and the things that eat up the money to educate our kids properly.
    I am anti public school choking the taxpayer.
    I am anti school unions keeping schools from being all they can be, and taking money away from our kids classrooms and putting it into their own pockets.
    I am anti-state mandates telling us how to spend our money locally.
    I am anti-useless programs in that teach these kids everything but reading writing and arithmetic, and turn out kids who are clueless about our history and our world.
    Do you know what portion of the education budget actually shows up in the classroom? not a whole heck of a lot.
    It shows up in the administration’s pockets and their useless teaching techniques that have been proven to be utter failures.
    Tell me how I, an uncredentialed non-professional, have been able to give my kids a much better education then our stellar West Hartford public school had provided for them when they attended?
    Can you explain why my kids math teachers couldn’t teach math because they were too busy administering other programs? Can you explain why KP’s principal told us we’d do better in a private school because he couldn’t serve my kids needs? Can you explain how this system has failed so many other kids? There are books out there that explain it and if you are interested in exploring that then I’d be happy to share.

    Do I criticize the public schools? Sure.. because they are failing many kids and families. Do you think the system is perfect? Obviously you do. and that’s your prerogative.

    I am not anti education.. The education establishment and its educrats failed my kids and then told us to go elsewhere. We did. If you want to fault me for doing the best for my kids then go right ahead. I am a homeschooling parent, proud of it, and if you are so steeped in tolerance and diversity as schools teach your children, then you’d be loathe to criticize my choices. My 15 year old is taking college courses. What’s your 15 year old doing? Don’t even go there with my education choices pal.

    As for the town council listening.. they are still handing us a 6.6% increase over last years tax bill.
    They handed us smoke and mirrors because they didn’t really lower spending by much, they just upped the amount expected from the state which is nonsense. They’ll be extremely lucky if they ever get the amounts promised by ECS, etc. The Town Council did a fair job but did not go far enough. This isn’t just about this budget it’s about what is coming next year and the year after. This town has a spending problem, and this is the year they need to get it fully under control.

    I don’t make the decisions for the taxpayers group folks – we had a recent meeting of over 75 people who voted on WHTA’s initiatives. I am but a small voice among many, and people are signing our petitions in droves. You are clearly out of touch with the tipping point of the residents in town who have had enough of this town’s spending spree.
    There are people who are barely hanging on here. We’ve had people literally crying to us that they will be forced out of their homes, and some already have. They are not all old people either. Do you care? I do.

    We have funds running deficits, and projects that were supposed to be self sustaining which aren’t. That’s not prudent management in many people’s opinion.. maybe not yours though.

  33. turtle

    (Thanks, Vince.)

    Wow, it’s hard to know where to start in the miasma of demagoguery that is Judy’s last post.

    Let’s see:

    I never said you were anti-education, I never made judgment about your decision to homeschool, I never said I thought the public schools are “perfect”, or that they can be all things to all people. No, I don’t know you or your “philosophies”; however, based on your prolific public utterances and your ongoing crusade against the Board of Ed, I did say that you are an ideologue antipathetic to the cause of public education, and I stand by it.

    Neither do you know me, yet you engage in rank presumption (sensitively, of course) about my views on a variety of subjects that I have never addressed on this blog. But then, you have no problem tossing off purely speculative statements as if they were facts. Examples: “They’ll be extremely lucky if they ever get the amounts promised by ECS, etc.” You know this how? “Do you know what portion of the education budget actually shows up in the classroom? not a whole heck of a lot.” I give up! What portion? Got a source?

    I’ve got to go, but it’s just as well. Why mess with a big blob of rhetorical questions anyway.

  34. Turtle (or whoever you are – it’s nice to hide behind anonymity eh?)
    It sure looks like you said I was anti-education.. I guess you can’t read your own posts – anyway I won’t stoop to your level of name calling –
    I’ll just stop there .. since you obviously cannot debate an issue in a civil manner, and you won’t do your own research. Must have been something you learned in school. LOL.
    Think what you will of me – I couldn’t care less.
    Peace to you and yours.

  35. Joe Visconti

    Ding- Round 10, as turtle slowly ducks and moved to Judy’s onslaught of uppercuts, Righthooks (Republican) and flury of jabs. It’s Judy, now it’s Turtle exchanging vicious blows to the body as the crowd screams for more. Turtle is slow to move in and has a cut over her left (liberal) eye. Blood drips across her face blinding her from Judy’s power…. and then, wait… oh my god Turtle is down, Turtle is down in the 10th. What a hit from Judy, Turtle is scrambling for consciousness on the mat as the blogg referee starts the count 1,2,3 oops the ref doesn’t know what comes after 3 (must have attended the West Hartford Public Schools System- hey so did I)…. But wait she’s up Turtle is up and staggering as her cornerman Vince helps her to the stool and the round ends!

  36. Damn you, Visconti, you made me laugh!

    Even if it is obvious somebody was drunk at ringside.

  37. interested

    Judy,

    I find your posts to be well thought out, your position clearly stated. Nice job.

    Turtle,

    Are you a politician? Don’t resort to attacking someone personally. It’s Bush league (pun intended) Why can’t you simply state your opinion and provide facts to support the opinion/argument?

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