Category Archives: Scott Slifka

Slashing services the only option

The choice that our town leaders face is clear: they can either slash education more deeply or they can dump long-established services that town residents value.

Today’s story in The Hartford Courant devotes too much space to debunking the misleading numbers used by the West Hartford Taxpayers Association — old news, guys! — and not enough to what’s in store next.

But we do learn from the story that “the council will have to look to eliminate or reduce things that are in the budget, such as town services. ‘This is not something you can address adequately by trimming,’ [Mayor Scott] Slifka said. ‘We’re looking at wholesale service reductions.’
“Officials said they are considering eliminating the town’s vacuum-truck leaf pick-up service and instead requesting that residents place bagged leaves at the curb for pickup.
“Officials expect to have suggested reductions by the end of the week, and the council expects to adopt a new budget at its next meeting on June 26.”

I’m fine with dropping the vacuum trucks. They make a heckuva racket anyway.

What else can we do to save money on the municipal side of the budget? The schools can’t take more cuts.

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Filed under budget, News, referendum, Scott Slifka, town council, Town government, West Hartford

No more mystery from “the responsible center”

It’s time to fess up about the mystery cuts that the town council seems to believe could salvage the Board of Education budget.

So far, we’re getting mere hints and assurances that the $1.5 million the schools need can be found without wiping out Quest, slashing sports, eliminating the extra help our most troubled schools need and so on.

Sorry, but that’s not enough.

The school board has a terrifying list of proposed cuts that would drastically impact the lives on many students, leaving some of them cut off from the extra assistance they need to achieve their potential.

That’s not my idea of “the responsible center,” as the mayor put it to reporters yesterday.

What’s most frustrating is that all we’re hearing from town officials is that we should trust them.

Well, I had a professor once who told us that every time you hear someone in a movie say “trust me” you can bet your life that anyone who puts his faith in those words is going to face a heap o’ hurt.

So permit me to remain skeptical.

I want details.

The schools have told us what they think it takes to save so much money. What are the alternatives?

Here’s what we’ve been hearing so far from officials who may know some answers:

Mayor Scott Slifka told the Courant yesterday that “the council has believed from day one and we still believe that additional administrative savings can be found that will not impact the classrooms.”

“Those ideas may not be on the board list yet, but I’m very encouraged by the fact that the town and board staff have been working together to reach consensus on those issues. And I think that we should all take a deep breath and continue working on this for the benefit of the kids and the taxpayers,” Slifka told the paper.

Former Lt. Gov. Kevin Sullivan, whose commitment to education can’t be second-guessed after all these years, assures us in a comment on another entry that the school board needs to look “for cuts last in what goes on directly in the classroom and first at exhausting every other possible way to reduce expenditures (including ideas that the town administration has been pointing out to the school administration for awhile now.)”

Another fine politician, Chuck Coursey, also assures us in a comment elsewhere on this blog that the town council “believes that there are additional savings in the Board budget that can be achieved without impacting the classroom. I’m pleased that the Town and Board Administration are working together to identify and reach consensus on those areas.”

Slifka told the Courant, as its reporters paraphrased the comments, “that many of the ideas that led to those cuts – such as trimming administrative costs – have been under discussion for a long time.”

“The council is attempting to balance the need to continue investing in the schools, which we are doing, with the significant fiscal impact on the community as a whole. It’s a very difficult balance,” the mayor told the paper.
“The council is in the middle. The board says it’s not enough; the taxpayers contend it remains too high. And the council is right in the middle – the responsible center. It represents that we are trying to balance the competing needs of the community,” Slifka said, according to the Courant.

One final thought: it’s insulting that Slifka more or less says the Board of Education is not in “the responsible center.”

It’s not the job of the town council to plunk itself down in the middle somewhere between what schools need and what self-styled taxpayer advocates urge. It’s the job of our elected leaders to fight for what’s right and to hold down spending to no more than what’s needed.

But what’s needed is what must be allocated, whatever the threats from those who want to pay less. If we’re going to have to defend a budget from tax fanatics, we want a spending plan that doesn’t leave our school system lagging behind.

 

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Filed under budget, Chuck Coursey, education, Kevin Sullivan, News, Property taxes, referendum, Schools, Scott Slifka, Taxes, town council, West Hartford

Should we be mad about the town’s proposed budget?

An overview of the budget in today’s Hartford Courant provides a taste of the increasingly bitter debate about the spending plan town leaders are going to adopt next week. It’s must reading for anyone who cares.

Although it’s written backwards — correcting misinformation before telling the story itself (an obvious favor to town officials) — it’s still interesting.

Here are some choice points:

* “There’s so much animosity,” Republican council member Joseph Verrengia said. “I welcome a difference of opinion, as long as we have a normal conversation and stick to the issues. But unfortunately there are some who make it personal.”

*  “The council’s focus right now is to try to get this budget increase as low as possible. Whether we do it through forecasting additional revenue, or cutting spending, the delicate balance that the council has to be concerned with is continuing to provide the services that make our town so special,” Verrengia said.

“By having it both ways, it’s a clear indication to me that the taxpayers’ association is just bent on having a referendum,” he said. “Theresa [McGrath] has been advocating for this Proposition 2½, and now she’s changing the rules, late in the game.”

* Mayor Scott Slifka, a Democrat, said that the taxpayers’ group is exploiting the natural anxiety associated with the revaluation of property and that the group this year is an “active arm of the Republican town committee.” Previous leaders of the taxpayers’ group, he said, did not engage in personal attacks and did not align themselves with the minority party.

* West Hartford Taxpayers Association President Theresa McGrath said she has not changed her mind about her proposal. She said the taxpayers’ group is nonpartisan and includes Democrats, Republicans, Green Party members and unaffiliated voters. She also denied engaging in personal attacks.
“It’s disturbing to me that elected officials would try to steer the press to create this personal issue rather than actually addressing the real issue, which is our taxes,” she said.

Jack Darcey, chairman of the school board, agreed that the town’s first property revaluation since 1999, coupled with the annual budget anxiety, has increased the level of tension this budget season.
“It’s sent people into a dither,” Darcey said of the revaluation. “It’s made people very nervous and very, kind of angry and certainly ready to do battle because they feel that what they’re calculating for their taxes is something they cannot afford.”

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In my view, the story is awfully scant on details. It looks like Slifka and Verrengia met with one of the two reporters together to go over “misinformation” — steering the story that way — rather than the reporters seeking out what’s going on and telling us the whole picture. After reading it, I still don’t know what even Slifka and Verrengia think the mill rate will be and how much more we can expect to pay.

Now, I’m willing to see a big increase because revaluation makes that a necessity, unfortunately. But let’s get real and TELL THE PEOPLE what to expect. We’re grownups. We can deal with the facts.

But this story is mostly just an insider shot at the taxpayers’ group, not a genuinely helpful piece of journalism.

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Filed under budget, Jack Darcey, Joseph Verrengia, News, Politics, Property taxes, Scott Slifka, Town government, West Hartford, West Hartford Taxpayers Association