John Foley might be a doctor, but for one night at least, he made a pretty good lawyer.
Foley argued for and eventually got an 11-8 vote against a $5,000 appeal by SEAT, a nonprofit organization that provides public transportation to towns in New London County. The board of finance originally cut $5,000 from the town’s appropriation to the group. First Selectman Dan Steward appealed to the RTM, but was shot down.
Overall, Waterford will contribute $36,000, less than the $41,000 SEAT asked for its services. SEAT gets its funding from several towns in the area and the state of Connecticut.
This was the first time SEAT has not received its full allotment from one of the towns it services, SEAT General Manager Ella Bowman said. Such a move could lead to Waterford being eliminated from receiving any services from SEAT.
Foley, along with several other RTM members, mainly Republicans, remained unimpressed. SEAT does not keep track of how many people ride the buses at any one time, and without that data the organization cannot run efficiently, Foley said.
“How do we know there is any value in some of these runs?” Foley said. “Without the data, we don’t know the value.”
RTM member Michael Hannan specifically looked at two buses in Quaker Hill that ran on Saturday. One bus had one person on it, the other bus had four people on it.
“Is there any way we can have smaller buses for smaller runs?” Hannan said. “Those large buses are not very efficient.”
Bowman said the buses cannot easily be switched out with smaller vehicles in the middle of the day. The buses are designed for the heaviest runs (early in the morning and in the late afternoon, driving people to and from work), she said.
A new system is being installed to track the amount of people on each bus, so data will be available next year, Bowman said. In the interim, the town is just charged by the amount of miles the buses run in town, an answer that did not impress Foley.
“I could drive around Waterford for miles and not pick anybody up and not provide any service,” he said.
The move will reduce the amount of service Waterford will receive (if it is not eliminated completely), Bowman said. That angered several RTM members who voted for the $5,000 allocation.
“What if it is taking one person to a job, even if it is the only person riding it,” RTM member Michael Cannamela said. “Think about the economic impact of that person losing a job.”
Theme Of The Night: The Status Quo
The SEAT debate was the one piece of drama in an otherwise routine night. The RTM denied another appeal, and cut only $300 from the first 15 budgets it saw (with more than $15 million in spending).
RTM member Kimberly Alfultis provided the one attempt of making a substantial cut, demanding a $12,682 budget cut from the assessor’s office. The office had a 7.8 percent budget increase over last year, far above the 3 percent guideline, she said.
The move would have probably led to the department laying off a part-time employee, Town Assessor Mike Bekech said. The cut was denied, 13-6.
Emergency Management’s budget was also more than 3 percent higher than last year, with a 4.39 percent increase. However, Alfultis did not move to cut that budget after Emergency Management Director Murray Pendleton argued the department will return $100,000 in revenue to the town.
Alfultis said after the meeting that she would target all budgets with increases over 3 percent.
The $300 cut, which came out of the assessor’s office, will have no real effect on the current budget of $74.32 million. If all things stay the same, taxes will increase 4.6 percent next year.