Budget referendum is MEANINGLESS

The referendum we’re voting on next week will tell us exactly nothing about what this town wants in its budget for the coming fiscal year.

The question it asks — “Are you in favor of the budget ordinance as adopted on April 24, 2007?” – would get a NO from almost everybody. The anti-tax fanatics will vote against it because they want even more cuts, but many residents will also vote no because they want more money for education.

Town councilors would be sorely mistaken to interpret a NO vote on the referendum as a demand that more cuts be made. The reality is that many, many people in West Hartford are feeling disheartened that so much has been sliced already.

I’ve already said that I think those of us who want more school spending should hold our noses and vote for this flawed budget. But I know many people won’t do it even though they oppose further cuts.

The West Hartford Taxpayers Association has forced this town to waste more money on a worthless referendum that will tell us nothing except perhaps that a majority of people don’t like the budget. Now that’s a stunner.

This whole thing is cheap charade. It will not provide direction to a confused council. It will not improve our town. It will only divide us further as we clash with one another about a budget everybody loathes.

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19 Comments

Filed under budget, News, referendum, town council, West Hartford Taxpayers Association

19 responses to “Budget referendum is MEANINGLESS

  1. EJ

    The choice is to Vote Yes to keep things as they are .
    or
    Vote No to send the budget back for more cuts.

    pretty simple concept.

    However, I think you will find that this year is nothing, the next 4-5 years are going to prove a very tough time for this town and we are going to see some serious budget/tax fights.

  2. Truman's Mom

    I agree with you, Whdad. I never miss a voting opportunity (good thing I live in a town that votes early and often…) but this time I don’t like the choice either.

    Can’t support the anti-tax people – but I also have no polling opportunity to voice my support for education.

    Guess I have to stop watching the town council and education boards on TV and actually attend those meeting, eh?

  3. Joe Visconti

    Vote No on June 12th

    Prune the budget some more, it works on Wall Street. Stocks rise when Corporations send message’s to their stockholders that they will get more lean and competitive. Less Job Security also get’s employee’s thinking and competing to discover innovation. What’s good for the private sector is good for the Public sector. Stop the bleeding hearts. If you want your kid to get more education than is affordable in public education then work harder and send them to private school, don’t ask those on limited budgets to pay more in taxes they cannot afford, that’s just arrogant and selfish!

  4. John Hardy

    “Town councilors would be sorely mistaken to interpret a NO vote on the referendum as a demand that more cuts be made. The reality is that many, many people in West Hartford are feeling disheartened that so much has been sliced already.”

    WHDad, I absolutely agree….but I think we need to be clear about the question and the vote at this point so as not to confuse anyone.

    Only a YES vote on June 12 assures no further damage to the West Hartford Public Schools.

    Let this whole episode be a “lessen learned” for those of us supporting a strong public school system: in the future, we need to be as loud and clear BEFORE the Council’s budget vote as the naysayers were this year.

    I for one have been a lurker here for months, but as your excellent blog increases in exposure throughout the Town those of us generally sharing your perspective need to become as vocal as those that don’t.

  5. The problem with the budget isn’t so much that the Dems on Town Council are looking for a tax increase. What’s wrong here is that they are always looking to increase our taxes and most years they wanted something over that magical 6% threshold.

    I have to applaud the West Hartford Tax Payers Association for finally drawing a line in the sand. Vote “no” and holdout for no tax increase this year…

  6. If its a budget that “everyone loathes”, then why should it have support?

    I have to agree with Dodd and the WHTA. It’s important not to loose sight of the problem here – taxes are very much out of sight in this town and keep rising EVERY year. Why? Because we have a spending problem around here; we elect people who clearly don’t have a problem with spending other people’s money, and they are obviously incapable of managing money and making tough decisions that might offend one special interest group or another. What makes life easy for our Council is that the residents who vote tend to have short memories, and do not hold the Council accoutable for doing what is right.

    The rag tag group – WHTA unfortunately gets beat up for trying to do something about the insanity of a run away train. Imagine what the taxes would be if they didn’t stand up for the regular guy? I don’t buy the argument – don’t hold a referendum because WHTA will lose anyway? What? What every two years and hope and pray that Carl Donatelli might fight a good candidates and that they’ll have a snowballs chance in hell of being elected in this 80% democratic town?

    Middle income families are beginning to take a second look at this town. This town is just peachy for folks who own nice size homes and bought them 20 years ago or more when the market was down. Their taxes are high, but to them its just a yearly bill. But for the rest of us, either starting families or adding new children we have to ask… for all it has.. is it worth paying so much to live here – receive a tiny plot of land, and a small house and know that based on taxes and housing prices that it would take an act of God or a market crash to upgrade to the next level home? We aren’t greedy, we simply want to have the same level comfort that many of you folks who read this blog have enjoyed for so many years.

    But a lot of us realize we probably won’t be able to do that. Go do the math on what the price is in WH for a modest four bedroom home, then look at the taxes. Now be brave enough to drive around and survey area towns to the north. Hmm. Huge discrepency – when you look at all the math.

    This town just about penalizes you for buying a new vehicle.

    I’m sure not all of you follow me. Many don’t care. “Just pay it” you say. Give our inempt Councils the green light to go nuts with the budget. They say, next year we’ll follow the same plan – propose a large tax increase, then argue, draw it back the increase to a modest one (while pretending to keep spending level), and then shout from the mountains that eveyone’s getting a discount. And then point the finger at the WHTA and make them the bad guys for questioning it. And it works every time.

    This town is a bad version of the movie groundhog day. Unfortunately, for those of us with growing, middle class families, there is just no happy ending.

  7. Another Dad

    The discussion of taxes is mixing two forces and in the process doing neither a service.

    Our current tax situation is a combination of the budget increase and revaluation. By far the strongest effect comes from the tax shift of revaluation. Very little can be done about the effects of revaluation through budgeting. The town has had a maddeningly shallow discussion of what revaluation tells us, and how we should manage its effect now and in the future.

    The budget as submitted calls for a 1.9% increase in property taxes. In a non-revaluation year that would be it. That is well below the 2.5% that WHTA has been asking for. If you are going the measure the council by how much they raised taxes, 1.9% is the only number to use since it is the number directly under their control. (Yes, it includes a good faith estimate of an increase in State Aid that may be too high.)

    Revaluation changes how that 1.9% increase works for individual tax payers. The 80% of town residents with a property revaluation that was above the 64% average will pay more then the 1.9%. That is not the councils fault.

    How much more? The current number being thrown around is 6.6% but it is more complicated then that. An individual’s increase depends on how far their revaluation is from that mean of 64%. Without the revaluation phase-in my property taxes with the current budget would have gone up about 17%. Instead my increase will be slightly higher then 6.6%. I will eventually see that entire 17% increase – it will just be phased in over the next 5 years.

    How is my good fortune this year (and that of 80% of West Hartford Tax Payers) being paid for? It is being paid for by increased taxes of those with revaluations that were below the mean – 20% of residential property owners and commercial property owners. Auto taxes will also be higher then they would have been without the Phase-in. Those most disadvantaged by the phase-in will actually have tax increases that are less then 6.6% (because their increase will be far higher then it would have been otherwise).

    The biggest losers in this cycle are those that had an unfairly high revaluation in 1999. They have been overpaying their share of the tax burden ever since. They will not receive the full benefit of a correction to their valuation until the phase-in is complete 5 years from now. 12 years of overpaying their taxes.

    The point of this (to long) post is that the real problem here is revaluation and the imbalances that build up when revaluation does not take place often enough. We should be revaluing every year so that imbalances do not build up. (Annual revaluation is imperfect but better then the alternative. It is the norm in many places in the country.) Instead we complain about revaluation as an ‘unfunded mandate’. We are going to wait another 5 years when we might very well face the same problems.

    Is there a better way to fund local government? Maybe – but until then the tool that insures we all pay our ‘fair share’ is revaluation. Playing games with it has benefits for some but they come at the cost of others.

  8. A Father of 3-Joe Visconti

    There is nothing we can do, we are powerless, it’s reval, it’s unfair ECS, it’s not our fault, everyone is controlling our destiny!!!
    Grow up, cut spending, kill binding arbitration, muscle the Unions, get lean, strong and flexible.
    If you can afford more taxes move to NYC.

  9. Another Dad

    Joe, I agree that we would benefit if we grew up, cut spending, killed binding arbitration, muscled the unions, got lean, strong and flexible. (Though of course all of those changes would have costs as well.)

    But , I do not think that a 1.9% tax increase is unreasonable – especially considering that under funded ECS and binding arbitration are current realities.

    Make no mistake – I recogonize the town faces big problems with taxation over the next 5 years. (I totally disagree with a post by Mr. Sullivan that we are riding a one year storm.) Our point of disagreement is that this referendum is a meaningful way to deal with the long term problem.

  10. Joe Visconti

    Another Dad

    Of course hardball ways seem unpalitable to conservative democrats, and I get it, but you must understand that leaders must make a commitment to all residents including new families, the elderly and retired as well as those with disabled parents and children.
    Tell me when, if not now do we who represent the above named groups take a stand? Tommorrow never comes with the elite.
    Vote No, it’s the only decent thing to do.

  11. Another Dad

    J0e,
    What would an acceptable response from town government be? To move the ‘average’ increase (because of reval) from 6.6 to 2.5 (the WHTA target) would require about (@ roughly $2 Million per percent) $8 million in expense reductions and an overall property tax revenue decrease of more then 2%.

    Is that what the WHTA is looking for? If so – I am not on board.

  12. Kevin Sullivan

    A very hearty “AMEN” for John Hardy’s post. I know what the totality of my wife’s email, phone calls and public testimony has been like during this budget process. I even asked several friends on the Board of Education, where the voices for the schools were in all of this. It’s not that elected officials go with the wind, but they do test the wind and are always feeling for crosscurrents that reflect the voices (most of us) they do not hear. That’s the nature of our representative (trustee) system of government.
    School boards make education policy. Town councils make fiscal policy. You don’t convince one by just talking to the other. And it does not create a healthy totality of discussion when some in our school administration treat the school PTO’s as their preserve by actually discouraging direct connections and conversations with the fiscal policymakers.

  13. EJ

    I believe the WHTA’s desire is to see spending capped at 2.5% increases.

  14. Joe Visconti

    Another Dad

    I am not a member of the Taxpayers Group and am not involved in their Organizational plans; but if I were King for a day,(ooh I like that thought) I would suggest to the public to Vote No, send the budget back for more pruning to the tune of another 1 million dollars and ask the Board of Education to shoulder half of that cost.Ask the teachers again for concessions.

    Kevin

    Does your right hand know what your left hand is doing? Or don’t they communicate?

  15. Another Dad

    Joe,

    I appreciate that you put your target out there. Cutting another million is not going to lower taxes much but it does send a message and from what I have seen it is doable. (A fairly large amount of the 1.8 the BOE cut came from updated projections.)

  16. Another Dad

    Joe,

    I appreciate that you put your target out there. Cutting another million is not going to lower taxes much but it does send a message. From what I have seen it is doable. Another 500K to the BOE would probably bring class sizes in 6th grade back into play.

    I personally would prefer to make Class Size decisions with next years budget when we have had the opportunity to look at the whole picture and put together a long term plan reflecting the new budget realities. Of course that assumes such a process will be undertaken…..

  17. Joe Visconti

    Another Dad

    If you or anyone can get the leadership to make a 5 year tax plan with revealed projections upfront which will take into effect a new teachers contract, God Bless you, but I just have lost whatever little faith I had in the establishment and it’s ability to remember it’s duty to the taxpayers(all of us).

    Also remember Barbara Carpenter who is inside now will be the head of the teachers Union this month and into our next Teachers Contract in 09, watch for the new player she helps choose to replace her, my bottom dollar says it will be an establishment democrat and just another yes man/woman/other.
    Closed door binding arbitration is the blame game now and it will be next year. If you do not see teachers joining the call to give concessions back if the budget gets voted down next week, you wont see them next year.

  18. Lets be real. . . the idea that a handful of people may turnout and vote “no” on the referendum because they want more taxation is ridiculous. That group, if they exist at all, is so small that they will be “statistically meaningless.” But things that are meaningless always seem to give the Democrats something to ring-their-hands-and-whine-about.

    The latest study from the Center on Education Policy shows demanding accountability in education “NCLB” yields results not endless supplies of wasted money.
    http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2007-06-05-nclb-report_N.htm
    And if you look at the entire spectrum of education from Judy Aron’s home schoolers all the way to Hartford’s dysfunctional school system it will be much easier to see the relationship between accountability and results.

    But John Hardy inadvertently struck on an interesting point.

    Connecticut’s system for referendum is broken and needs to be updated. Not only should citizens be able to say exactly what the want on the ballot question (say 0% increase or whatever) but they should also be able to petition questions directly onto a statewide ballet.

  19. LXD

    Regarding the original post and what we are voting for, I think the charter should be revised so that the referendum question has three choices: leave the budget as is, increase the budget, and decrease the budget. Then it will be perfectly clear what the voters want.

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