Category Archives: Town government

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?

 

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

The budget debacle

There’s something seriously wrong if taxpayers have gunned two straight budgets by wide margins.

So what is it?

One could argue that the problem is that town leaders are simply trying to spend more money than residents are willing to support. This clearly has some truth to it, but it’s simplistic.

Another alternative is that people are struggling financially and, given the choice, are going to try to lower what bills they can. Again, there’s truth in that. None of us want to pay more, particularly when the cost of everything seems to be rising a whole lot faster than paychecks.

But I think the real reason that the budgets are getting clobbered is that we generally don’t feel as if we are getting the information we need before we agree to pay so much more. Sure, the town puts budget information online, but it’s presented in a way that only an accountant could love. And nowhere do we get simple data on the questions people are always asking – how much do employees make? What kind of health care do they get and how much do they pay? What kind of pensions are we handing out and how much does that cost each year? And on the education side, we really want to see much more, because it does seem preposterous that the charges go up so much every year while student numbers stay relatively stable. Explain that to us, please, in painstaking detail.

I’m a supporter of the schools, a backer of the budget, a yes voter to my core. But I’m also confused and upset that my neighbors have so many questions and there are so few answers. Relying on us to trust our elected leaders obviously isn’t enough to get a spending plan passed.

Give us some help, town council members. Let’s delve into the details, school board members. Make it possible for those who want to see the required spending supported to sell skeptical friends, neighbors and others.

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

Judge says no to dogs

Walbridge Road dog lover Faith Kilburn, who has 21 Shih Tzu dogs in her home, lost her appeal of a town order requiring her to get rid of nearly all of them, according to a story in today’s Hartford Courant.

Kilburn has 20 days to appeal — which she’ll no doubt do — and then the town will start fining her for violating zoning laws. She’d have to pay $43 a day for the first five days, $103 a day for the next 10 days and $192 a day thereafter, the story said.

Now I know that Kilburn has her supporters, including many neighbors, but I stand firmly with the town in its stance that the law must be obeyed. It is quite reasonable to prohibit people in our town from having more than a few pets because we are fairly urban and there’s no room for hordes of animals. Plus, we all know most people with an excess of animals in a suburban setting are kooks.

All Kilburn has to do to keep her dogs is move somewhere they are allowed. It’s simple, really, but she refuses to face the dictates of the law.
 

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Filed under dogs, Kilburn, News, Town government, West Hartford, Zoning

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

Blue Back Square cited as model for growth

Blue Back Square photo

 Blue Back Square now

Developer Richard Heapes was heaping it on in Maryland this week, according to a  story in The Gazette, which covers the DC suburbs.

Pushing for more developments like Blue Back Square, Heapes “pointed to a project his company, Street-Works, is building in West Hartford, Conn., as an example. West Hartford gave his company $50 million in bonds to do $200 million of construction for Blue Back Square, aimed at revitalizing the city’s center.”

“By working with city officials and community organizations, including a neighborhood church, an American Legion post and the merchants’ association, his company will turn that $50 million into $80 million worth of assets and amenities, Heapes said. The organizations got an expanded library, new church entrance and a small movie theater available for free to groups,” he told a planning board there, according to the paper.

Let’s hope he can keep bragging about Blue Back Square for the next couple of decades.

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Filed under Blue Back Square, News, Richard Heapes, Town government, West Hartford, West Hartford Center, West Hartford economy

School board’s budget goals this year

Way back in January, the Board of Education approved its goals for this year’s budget:

The Budget Priorities are:

 1.      The budget will provide support for continued planning and implementation of the -2007-2011 four-year district goals as established by the Board.

2.      The budget will support student and teacher educational needs, growth in student enrollment and diversity of students, efforts to close the achievement gap, and safe and orderly schools.

3.      The budget will continue to maintain a balanced commitment to academics, arts, athletics, and student responsibility. 

4.      The budget will support rising costs of health benefits, energy, and educational supplies and materials. 5.      The budget will support the negotiated contracts with all bargaining units.     6.      The budget will identify and recommend long-term cost saving measures to minimize the budget increase.

 7.      The budget will provide support for the enhancement of programs, facilities and support staff at Smith and Charter Oak magnet schools.   

8.      The budget will identify efficiencies both short term and long term gained through the Education and Municipal facilities consolidation. 

It looks to me as if the proposed cuts now will undermine most of those priorities, particularly at Smith and Charter Oaks schools, and weaken any effort to close the achievement gap. 

 

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Filed under Charter Oak, education, News, Schools, Smith, Town government, West Hartford

Taking an ax to education

In the wake of the town council’s awful decision to slice $1.8 million from the proposed school budget, something has to give. Now we know what it might be, and it’s terrible.

The Board of Education has posted a list of potential cuts to reach the new budget goal that it never wanted. You can see the list in PDF form here.

Just scroll through the list and it will make your heart sink. Extending world language education down to kindergarten? Gone. Quest? Gone. Extra help for our most troubled schools? Gone.

They’re even eyeing a return to half-day kindergarten at Aiken, Bugbee, Duffy, Morley and Norfeldt — a policy reversal that flies in the face of every expert’s recommendation. Those same schools might also see class sizes rise by FOUR students apiece. That’s terrible, too, since smaller classes are key for getting results.

Go through the hit list yourself. Everyone will find different things that make them queasy. If this happens, it would be a giant step backward and a slap in the face of our hard-working students, who deserve better.

And what’s really worrisome is that even with all these cuts already looming, the West Hartford Taxpayers Association is pushing for a referendum because it wants MORE cuts. This is so ludicrous that I don’t know where to begin. What kind of town are we creating here? Our leaders need to do better, all of them.

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Filed under Aiken, Board of Education, Bugbee, Duffy, education, Morley, News, Norfeldt, Quest, Schools, town council, Town government, West Hartford