In a straight party-line vote Wednesday night, the Board of Finance voted not to fund Southeastern Area Transit (SEAT) for the upcoming fiscal year.
“There have been requests after requests over and over for more information,” Board of Finance member Norman Glidden said. “And we still have not received what we have asked for.”
SEAT was asking for $43,924 for the next fiscal year, a nearly 20 percent increase over what Waterford allotted for this fiscal year. The five Republicans on the board voted to “tentatively” zero out the budget for next year, with the two Democrats arguing Waterford should fully fund the request.
The Republicans argued that they have been asking for years for information, such as the number of , and still have not gotten the information. Nobody from SEAT showed up to defend the budget proposal, and without any information, it would be irresponsible for the board to approve it, Board of Finance Chairman Ron Fedor said.
“If we zero this out, then they can come and give us a presentation,” Fedor said. “I don’t think we can fund this unless we have some questions answered.”
SEAT is a regional bus service that provides public transportation to residents in nine towns. Most of the destinations in Waterford are retail outlets, like the .
Last year, the Board of Finance voted to cut $5,000 from SEAT. SEAT sent a letter to First Selectmen Dan Steward saying Waterford was statutorily obligated to pay what SEAT asks for, or else the town has to withdraw from SEAT, and demanded the town pay $5,812.
, saying it was a “bully” move by SEAT. Republican members of the Board of Finance agreed.
“No one should come into our Town Hall and tell us what we need to pay without providing the information we ask from everybody else,” Board of Finance member Mark Wiggins said.
Board of Finance member J.W. “Bill” Sheehan, a Democrat, said that Waterford has not fully paid its allotment before, and it was not forced to withdraw from SEAT. Instead, Sheehan said SEAT removes a few routes, not the entire bus service.
“We are not paying a percentage of the budget, we should lose a percentage of the service,” Wiggins said. “Us losing 100 percent of the service for not paying a percentage is ridiculous.”
According to the letter, if Waterford refuses to pay the $5,812 SEAT is requesting, then it will have to withdraw from SEAT, Fedor said. Therefore, funding SEAT for next year doesn’t make sense, Fedor said.
Instead, he said SEAT officials should meet with Steward or the Board of Finance and work something out. Steward said he has tried to meet with SEAT’s Board Chairman Paul Altman, and Altman refused.
The Board of Finance's decision is not final until the end of March. If SEAT would like to discuss the cut, they can come in and defend the budget to the board, Fedor said.
Problems At SEAT
In the last few years, SEAT has had a large oil spill at its main facility in Preston, a contested union dispute and passed .
Waterford has asked for ridership information for Waterford residents for at least the last two budget sessions. Both times, SEAT said that information would be too expensive to acquire.
SEAT is required to have an audit of its finances completed every year by January 1. The Board of Finance received the 2010 fiscal year audit this year instead of the 2011 fiscal year audit because the 2011 fiscal year audit was not completed in time.
Democrats Support SEAT
Sheehan and Cheryl Larder, both Democrats, both were against the cut. They said SEAT was still the only public transportation in the area, and if it were cut it would hurt residents who depend on it.