Vacuuming up the leaves

Is there anything more ridiculous than the West Hartford Taxpayers Association?

It demands that we cut, cut, cut and then, when cuts are made, it screams NO! NOT THAT!

For Judy Aron, its vice president, to tell The Hartfor Courant that eliminating curbside leaf  vacuum truck pickup is “a direct hit on our senior citizens” is both silly and stupid.

To use it as justification for seeking another budget vote is so stunningly obtuse that I can’t believe even this group could make the argument.

First off, the vacuum pickup is a luxury that most towns don’t do. We’re constantly told by people like Aron that we can’t afford these extra anymore, but when one is cut, she howls. Give me a break.

Even more than that, though, is the simple reality that the service should be stopped. Why should the town go around sucking up leaves? It’s far better that they get bagged and hauled off instead of blowing all over the neighborhood, clogging up storm drains, and presenting potentially deadly piles for children to hide in IN THE STREET. Plus I won’t miss the whirring noise of the damn things on otherwise delightful autumn days.

Anyway, Judy, your credibility is shot now.

The town made a reasonable decision on how to save some money without hurting the community. It’s a harship for some, sure, though I don’t think the elderly are taking a bigger hit than anyone else on it. Perhaps it’s just that you want the cuts to hurt only the children?




Filed under budget, education, News, Schools, town council, Town government, West Hartford

27 responses to “Vacuuming up the leaves

  1. Cynic

    Judy makes a good point. The Council picked the most painful/visible item to cut in order to try and scare taxpayers. An act of petulance if you will.

    I don’t think we’d be looking at the possibility of a 2nd referendum (might not even have had a first) had Slifka had the courage to open the town up to a management audit and announced that all departments would be gone through for waste, placed a hiring freeze on the town and announced that all benefit programs (vacation, vacation buyback, sick time, pension, med) would up for review and/or modification

  2. Gee, where might fervent (militant?) homeschooler Judy Aron like to see the town’s budget cuts made? Hmm…I wonder…

    I mean, it’s not like there’s a bumper sticker on the sidebar of her blog that says “it takes a school to bankrupt a village” or anything like that, right?

  3. WH Mom

    I wish all these budget-busters would put “For Sale” signs up and get out of Dodge!

    There are many of us middle classers who are NOT griping about our taxes going up, because we feel good about the education our children are getting.

    Those of us who will be making sacrifices in other areas of our personal budgets to afford the higher taxes, hold the value and belief in the WHPS system, are staying…

    As for the leaves… Thank god they are eliminating those stupid piles up and down the sides of the roads!

  4. Go away, Judy!

    Cut him, cut her, cut them other guys, but don’t cut me! What a shallow person she is.

  5. TruthCounts

    Nothing like a personal attack. This Judy Aron must be some threat to you.

    And your argument is weak. The Council made this decision not Judy Aron or her tax group. The Council deliberately chose leaf pick up to stir up controversy and start the blame game. If leaf pick up did go away, I’m sure people will remember which elected officials did away with the service.

    If you don’t like WHTPA, then create your own opposition group – you can call it – West Hartford Tax Raisers Association, and you can ban together to call for a huge tax increase.

    I bet you could find thousand strong in the middle class, WHMOM that would pay to put a for sale sign on your yard and get the “budget increasers” the hell out of dodge too.

  6. Cynic

    TruthCounts, they already have their own group. It’s called WHFirst. I guess since their group didn’t get alot of traction in the 1st referendum they have to continue trying to defame and slander Judy, the WHTA and anything else that disagrees with them.

  7. Zohan

    “…I do feel that we need somewhere to talk through these issues more seriously and with less partisanship than other sites seem to have.

    So I’m going to try.”

    So attacking Judy Aron is part of this, right?

  8. For the Schools

    You can bet any amount of money that Judy Aron does not have any relative anywhere near the WH public schools.

    Personally, I’m thrilled about the cuts to the leaf collectors. I’m appalled at budget cuts made to the schools. Considering that the average age of the population of WH is getting younger, this is a foolish move! (Sure, this is anecdotal, but most pre-schools in the area have multiple-year waiting lists – a sure sign that there will be a surge in the public schools within the next few years.)

    I’m glad the budget cuts have hurt Judy Aron and the obnoxious WHTA. They don’t represent me, and surely they don’t represent WH.

  9. Cynic

    Judy doesn’t have kids in the school system.

    The WHTA isn’t looking to butcher the budget. They want a clearer accounting and responsible budgeting. Again, how about a zero based budget and a managerial audit. Let’s find the waste.

    In the mean time, the town can do what Enfield is doing for those of you who want to pay more taxes they can have a check off box and you can send in an extra check. BTW, this was always an option.

  10. For the Schools

    Last year’s dis-information campaign by the WHTA left a horrible taste in my mouth. This year, they have managed to bully through one referendum, and now they want ANOTHER, because they didn’t get the cuts they wanted? I think enough is enough.

    Why doesn’t Judy run for public office? Oh, that’s right, she did, and was soundly defeated.

    I’m glad to hear that she doesn’t have any kids in public school. Only an idiot would want to see public school funding cut when they have a child in the system. It does demonstrate to me, though, that she is a self-serving demagogue. It is hard to feel bad for someone who’s taxes have gone up because their house value has increased.

    Nobody wants to pay higher taxes. But I don’t want to see any more cuts to the school system. It’s basically cutting off our young. West Hartford’s school system is absolutely wonderful, perhaps the best in the state. However, if we keep cutting their budget, that status may fall. And, with it, go real estate values.

  11. Zohan

    Did they cut getting inmates at the town lockup their food from the Prospect Cafe?

    How about the idiotic rickshaws coming to the center, that just so happen to be manufactured by a business associate of the counselor who proposed them?

  12. TruthCounts

    The point is that Judy Aron isn’t the only one who wants to see fiscal responsibility in town.

    Yeah its true she was defeated but the referendum is evidence that budget concerns are townwide. You can’t have it both ways – people are extremely disappointed in the town council’s management of the budget.

    The posters above are one dimensional – the schools. They basically say everyone can rot in hell as long as the teachers and administrators get what they want. The rest of us are concerned about other issues that in our eyes are more important than giving high raises to teachers. The spending in WH is clearly a problem.

    Look at the statistics, year after year its a problem – higher and higher tax rates. I don’t think its caused by Judy Aron or her tax group. In fact, I admire her for at least getting off her arse to oppose the spending that the posters above wish everyone would blindly agree to.

  13. Anonymous

    How many people in WH get 35 days (7 weeks) vacation after 10 years on the job?

    That is what the directors who report to the town manager get. They can also have the town “buy back” 20 days of vacation each year.

    Do you think that is hard to do when you get 15 sick days and 13 paid holidays in addition to the 35 vacation days?

  14. Does anyone know what type of sick day, holiday, and vacation day benefits employees for other area towns are receiving? Are they approximately the same, or very different?

    I think it’s important to compare town employee benefits in WH to other town employee benefits.

    I don’t think you can compare town employee benefits to the benefits that an employee would receive at an Aetna, UTC, MetLife, etc.

  15. The King

    Interesting discussion. Good to see this blog is up and running again.

    I can at least try and and answer Amy’s question from my experience and the experience of my peers working in the Insurance Capital of the World…

    A lot of what you get in terms of benefits can be negotiated individually with the company. Tenure, experience and role/level also play a role in determining what you can negotiate.

    New employees up to two years tend to start with 10 days plus holidays. Most companies are willing to give you 15 days, plus the usual holidays – if you are desired and skilled. Execs get up to 20 or more, but few execs take them all simply because its unlikely that they can be out of the loop for extended periods of time. Some tenured employees with 10+ years do get 4 weeks regardless of rank/tenure.

    Factories like UTC which are union organized are more liberal with these kind of allocations since most are negotiated by the unions very similiar to government allocations (although not as generous as the State of Connecticut).

    Sick days as such have long been done away with in most companies. Vacation and sick days are rolled into one sum that you may use as you see fit – either as vacation (PTO) or what refereed to as flexible care days. Some companies divide such time as planned and unplanned, but again they come out of one bank of allocation.

    None of this takes into account mandated laws around disability days or extended leave that companies and agencies must provide.

    Also, the latest thing in the private sector is “use it or lose it” when it comes to vacation. Most companies allow you to only roll over one week. Vacation buy backs are also a thing of the past, or are becoming so. And now many companies no longer are required to pay you for the vacation time you didn’t take if you leave you job.

    Additional considerations to time now include Flex time and Work from Home opportunities. Both of these schemes are great on saving gas, but ask anyone and they will tell you that they put in tons more hours then they did when they were tied to a standard PC tower. Laptops translate to work your tail off. Plus offshoring of staff lends to earlier mornings, and later hours when you throw California or Seattle into the mix when dealing with cross functional teams.

    Now if you want to talk healthcare benefits… we can have a lot of fun comparing those benefits across the board. The old days of a simple $5 or even a $15 co-pay are long gone. Ughh. Try having a baby under some of these plans and you’ll find yourself asking…. benefits, what benefits?

  16. King- when I was at UTC I found that they essentially did not negotiate benefits like vacation and sick days (for non-union, salaried employees at any level). There was a formulaic approach to everything and they stuck to it. I believe this was because taking time off is “visible” to everyone, so if it’s not standardized, people get upset and wonder why they didn’t get the same deal. Salary is a little more private, so it was easier to negotiate that.

    Also, regarding a unionized environment. I was responsible for managing unionized workers at UTC. Their benefits were driven by whatever was specified in the union contract, for that contract term. There was no negotiating anything once it was signed. You were locked until the next negotiation period. Union workers were guaranteed a certain number of vacation days (based on years of service), mandatory sick days, pay increases, special bonuses, etc.

    I believe this is the situation that West Hartford faces. They’ve signed a union contract for a certain time period and now they’re locked. (Please forgive my ignorance because I don’t know when the last renegotiation period took place, or when the next contract will be negotiated)

    I really don’t see how it would be feasible for the town to go back to the union to renegotiate. That’s the entire point of unions, they negotiate GUARANTEED benefits for their members. Once the contract is signed, it’s signed and you have to wait until the next negotiation period.

    My question is more along the lines of: are the WH town employees benefits in line with the benefit plans of employees from surrounding towns? Are days vacation, sick days, holidays, merit increases, etc. alike?

    I don’t think you can unilaterally compare private sector benefits (Aetna, UTC, etc.) to town government employee benefits, particularly because you are comparing a non-union environment to a union environment.

    Does that make sense? I’m not trying to get into an argument, I’d just like some more visibility if the WH benefit system is like other towns. Are they very out of line or similar in nature?

  17. The King

    Amy, what you ask makes sense.

    I agree that private and public sector jobs are very different and can’t be directly compared to acheive what may be eqivalent results.

    Each has its pluses and minuses. My view is that if one wants to be a teacher or union worker versus an insurance administrator, they are well informed of all of the benefits, pros and cons before entering into that field. Teachers cannot complain about not receiving bonuses and Private sector workers shouldn’t complain about not getting summers off. You pick and choose early on, and you get what you get. But I have to say when it comes to benes, the union shops tip the scale. When it comes to pay, the private sector wins out (except for govt entry level positions which pay more than private sector entry positions).

    You are right… a comparison between towns may be worthwhile. I’d like to see the payscales, stats, and benefit information for each of the districts/public works departments, town by town. It would be a facinating read to learn whether or not West Hartford employees are at the higher end, middle scale. I doubt they are the lowest paid.

  18. Examine Fringe Benefits

    Amy and The King, I do not agree that private vs public sector cannot be compared, specifically benefits. I think that 10-15 years ago they would be much more in line. Most private employers had defined benefit plans, just like the government still does.

    Today, defined benefits are vanishing quickly in the private sector. Defined contribution retiree plans are becoming dominant, and health care plan costs and deductibles go up and up for employees, however, our government workers still have the old plans. The new era of enhanced 401K’s and PPO health care with large deductibles need to be explored for government workers.

    When I looked at what little detail was provided on the town budget, I see “fringe benefits” up 14% so I am assuming these items are included here. These do not improve our children’s educations nor the town services. In fact, they make it difficult to save for college, if anyone has higher aspirations for their children.

    Had I known 20 years ago that working for the government meant that I could definitely retire with 70+% of salary and subsidized health care for life, I might have thought differently in choosing a career. Most private employers when I got out of college used to provide them, too, so it really was not a consideration but the rules have changed. I do not think it is realistic for public workers to think the general taxpayer can continue to provide these benefits forever when they no longer get them themselves.

    When I see the Council not addressing many items discussed in these forums like accumulated sick time, vacation buy backs, birthdays as a paid holiday, etc – for non union town workers they can stop it now – and instead going straight for services like leaf pick up and reduced library hours, I do not think they are trying very hard.

  19. anonymous

    Finally at last someone gets it!!!!!!!

    The figures I posted are for non-union employees. To allow this nonsense to continue while cutting services just shows the direct conflict of interest.

    Do you really think Jim Francis is going to allow the public to see the cost of these items that most taxpayers long ago had to forfeit, if they ever received them at all?

    Francis and virtually every one of his direct reports are getting ready to retire. The council should be using this as an example of controlling costs, but, instead look the other way.

    As for the statement that you can’t compare these to the private sector, excuse me, but that is extremely naiive. These types of benefits are no longer needed to attract qualified employees as the salaries are far more competitive that when these were given out.

    Furthermore if private employers don’t offer defined pension plans and have institued “use it or lose it” why should government employees be the last holdout for these benefits?

    There is somewhere between $100-500K that could go back to the budget if they simply started to address the nonsense with the non-union employees.

    Jim Francis has stonewalled all efforts to provide the infromation in a timely manner and after 2 years I have finally given up.

  20. Examine Fringe Benefits

    Anonymous, I agree with you. Cutting these expensive perks from non union employees that do not improve the education of our children or our town services would set an excellent example for the next round of union negotiations.

    One other item – are the employment levels of the town over time available anywhere? I am curious as to the efficiency of the services provided.

    I went through the WH schools myself, and I was shocked when I saw the small size of our latest graduating classes at Hall and Conard that were 357 and 326 respectively – aren’t we around the peak of the latest baby boom now? There was over 400 in my graduating class in the early 80’s, and I believe some classes at Conard in the 60’s had over 700. We’ve had to add on to the schools for space for this size of classes? Plant, Talcott, Smith, Aiken, and Bridlepath were already closed when I was at Conard in preparation of smaller classes to come, but we have portable classrooms all over plus reopened Smith and Aiken, added on to at least Sedgwick and Conard if not other schools, and opened Bristow. How are we using space and how many teachers and do we have on the payroll?

    Please do not get me wrong, I want strong schools in town, I want and expect the teachers to make a good livable wage, but I found the size of graduating classes to be a surprise for all the complaining I hear about class sizes and cutting of programs. It seems the town had to do a lot more in the past with many more students than it does today. I am afraid it is going to come back to fringe benefits, retiree payments and subsidized health care make up a huge portion of the Board of Education budget that we are not allowed to see.

    Any ideas or am I totally wrong?

  21. Noah Webstar

    Leaf pick up matters not to me – I am lucky enough to live on a large wooded lot where I can dump my leaves in the woods, and not see them again. But what troubles me is the absolute refusal of this Town’s government to allow an independent examination of the books to search out waste and potential cuts. It would be one thing if they wrote a budget that spelled out in line item form all details of the spending. But they don’t. If the “shining light of public scrutiny” is the best weapon against government excess, and this Council refuses to even permit a spark for public awareness, then why should I place complete and blind trust in them when they tell me there are no more cuts that can be made? candle

  22. anonymous

    Examine Fringe Benefits

    You have identified many of the items that have changed and are at the heart of the problems in WH.

    I attended Conard from 1967-1970. Here are some things to consider

    1. The “portable classrooms” were built for our incoming 1oth grade class

    2. 1970 was the peak enrollment in WH public schools with over 13,000 students.

    3. There we 700 kids in my 1970 graduating class at Conard ( the last class before the “new Hall opened)

    4. There were over 2,100 kids at Conard in three grades 10-12

    5. There were two hispanic kids who represented the entire “minority” population of the school

    The reallocation of school buildings and space in WH has a horrible track record as does facilities management at places like Rockledge and the skating rink

    A few more examples

    The old Rockledge colonial style clubhouse was condemned and subsequently the “new clubhouse” was built/remodeled three times at far greater cost than what was originally proposed. This resulted in a building where you can’t go from the first floor to the second and where much of the space is not functional

    The town had an option to reclaim the old Bridlepath school as part of the lease to Solomon Schechter. Not getting this school back on line was an incredibly short-sighted and expenseive decision.

    The skating rink was renovated at a cost of over $5 million and taxpayers were told that the increased revenues would more than cover the annual $322 thouand in debt payment for the bonds. The actual results were that the annual operating expenses were underestimated by 25% and they never implemented a $1 surcharge that was supposed to generate $80K per year. So when they were running a loss of well over $100k per year , what did they do? They moved the $322K of debt out of the Leisure Services Fund and into the General Fund and told everyone the rink now makes money

    Finally, ask yourself this about the town hall building. If the town hall building had not been the old Hall high school,obviously there would not have been the old gymnasium/auditorium.
    So if that portion of town hall did not exist would you vote to build an auditorium so the town could get into the “conference center business” and try to compete with the private sector?

    The point is during the original BBS discussions they actually wanted to add on to the building. We proposed that they take a serious look at reallocating that space and perhaps we could have had one hell of a senior/community center without spending the millions that went into expanding the senior center at Bishops Corner.

    There are probably other options that would be morte economically viable. Also if there truly needed to be a town meeting, do we not have auditoriums in Conard and Hall?

    I’m not trying to look at this with 20/20 hindsight, but, to point out that this town has a long history of facilities mismanagement. That is because they can’t think outside the box and have never paid attention to the bottom line. Also they are never held accountable which of course leads back to the need for a management audit.

    By the way, while I no longer am in the Corporate world I have a BS in Accounting, MBA, and a CMA (Certified Management Accountant)

    If you really want to see how bad things are, just try and deal with Jim Francis or the council if you dare present an different point of view

  23. Eastender

    I’d like to know on what data the statement “the average age of the population of WH is getting younger” is based. Seriously, all the figures I have seen show the opposite, but I could be wrong. This is the kind of trasparency in the decision making process that is lacking in the budget proposals, not just this one but the last ten – even in the “good times”.

    The point has been made that this is thexactly the kind of information taht should be readily available to the voters. I don’t have a problem with a bdget increase per se, but I will not blindly say okay how much do you want, here you go. I find it hard to believe that “all the low-hanging fruit” has bee removed for the town’s budget if we can re-plant flower pots four times a year! I also find it hard to believe that a more detailed accounting of the town’s spending could not be made accessible to me or anyone else, I may not be an accountant but I am not an idiot. If there are expensive services that a group/groups want cut or saved (including the town council) then there is no reason that the council can’t clearly articulate the pros/cons of saving/cutting the program.

    For those of you who expect your taxes to go up every year, well that is pretty much a given in the current climate. But why would you do a reassessment when property values are at a historic high. Why would you expect people to be happy that at the end of a reassesment being phased in their property taxes have tripled yet services have diminished. And what oh what happened to the tax savings from Blue-back square.

    If I hear another person say that those of us who expect the town council to adhere to the campaign promise of fiscal responsibility they (predominantly) ran on is against the schools, then I should be permitted to throw up in that person’s face. I am a product of those schools and they are a large portion of what keeps property values high in WH. I personally do not have children in the West Hartford schools, but that doesn’t mean my voice shouldn’t count, nor does it mean that the school budget should be sacrosanct! This is the same argument that the current white house used about who GWB represents! No stupid you represent everyone – not just those who agree with you (all the time) or who voted for you.

    The leaf pickup has become a ridiculous service, it was great in theory – especially back when there used to be more than one pick up before they froze to the ground and/or AFTER the leaves had all come down. I gave up trying to put my leaves (unbagged) at the curb a few years ago. The bagged leaf pickup is a pain too, half the time I end up taking my last few bags over to brixton street.

    As far as the WHTA being a useless bunch of demagogues, that seems a bit hyperbolic don’t you think? Judy Aron is not Joe McCarthy, she will also never be accused of being FDR. She was also the only person running for office I actually saw going door-to-door! That is not necessarily a reason to vote for her, but it is noteworthy. She actually talked to me and gave at least the appearance of listening. The WHTA may not have everyone’s best interests in mind (Despite what they claim) but at least they are an opposing voice to the town council, which to my mind has ridden roughshod over MY best interests, and belittled any dissenters for too long.

    I have not been particularly impressed with much of this council, we need even more turnover, It’s not about this party or policy position, it’s about new ideas and fresh perspectives instead of the status quo, trasparency an dtime rather than back room deals at the last minute. The “soft” term limit of the ballot box hasn’t changed enough faces in the past few cycles so hard term limit to me don’t sound like such a bad thing.

  24. Mike M

    Why is it when someone disagrees with someone or something, they get called names? Correct me if I am wrong but after last year’s referendum (6/2007) the town council streamlined the chart of accounts to make things more transparent. They announced this I believe at the September board meeting which was scarcely attended. Why? Was it because they knew they were in trouble with the citizens? They let the WHTA get attacked by all those who did not like what they had to say but in the end, somehow and very discreetly cleaned up their accounting(to some degree). Once again, the WHTA worked with what was provided and it is very difficult to get line item data and therefore are left with making estimates with the best information available.

    It also seems those in favor of BOE cuts always seem to scream because the cuts come at the expense of schools, programs, increased class sizes and/or loss of teachers. These people miss the boat. Even in the latest round of cuts, how much was cut in administration of the BOE? How many supervisors, asst. supervisors and/or perks of these individuals were cut? WE HAVE AN OVERBLOATED BOE and instead of screaming about program or teacher cuts, why don’t you take your anger to the BOE and demand accountability? Judy Aron and the WHTA never asked for teacher cuts, they requested an examination of the BOE and it still hasn’t happened.

  25. steve johnson

    lets go mets!

  26. ChelseaBoy

    How about all of you aloof town residents stop crying about the possibility of getting your hands and knees dirty while picking up the leaves on your own property and start worrying about things such as the pathetic school bus situation for King Philip Middle School Students?

    The route that runs toward the vicinity of Prospect Ave has become such a disgrace that involved parents are no longer letting their children ride on this bus. It is filled with fighting, swearing, intimidation and many other things you’d expect from a bus route in Frog Hollow. If our children have to deal with this type of nonsense, we all might as well save on taxes by moving to Hartford.

    Wake up, MORONS! Start paying attention to what is actually going on in this town and stop crying about petty things such as leaf collection. Cut down your trees if you don’t like it.

    Wow, get a clue.

  27. Found myself so interested in the things you posted. Great!

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