In February, First Selectman Dan Steward presented the Representative Town Meeting with a that included salary raises for all four years of at least 2¼ percent. Most of the RTM members spoke against the contract, saying it was too expensive, but it still passed, 11-5.
The argument Steward made was while it was not what he or the RTM wanted, it was the best they could do. So the group passed it, despite most of the members being opposed to the contract.
This has been the case for the town’s recent budgets, which have increased taxes every year. Many of the members have been against the increases, but much like the police contract, they argued it was the best they could hope for.
This year, it appears to be more of the same. Several influential members of the RTM said they were not happy having to deal with the 4.57 percent tax increase that comes in this budget, but there isn’t much else to do.
“(The department heads) have trimmed back, so it is hard,” said Andrea Kanfer, the Democratic leader of the RTM. “There just isn’t much wiggle room in the budget.”
The RTM begins its budget hearings tonight at 7:30 and will continue Tuesday and Wednesday. On Wednesday, it will finalize the budget, making it official for the 2011-12 fiscal year.
Republican Rodney Pinkham, a member of the RTM and the chairman of the economic development commission, said the “tax increases have been too much for years, to be honest.” But, “there are limitations to what we can do.”
Most of the budget increases are from the increased cost of health insurance, retirement and wages, which all are contractually obligated. With those contracts signed, there isn’t much to cut except people and services, and people don’t want to lose services they are accustomed too, RTM Moderator Sharon Palmer said.
“People keep wanting very good services, while keeping the taxes low,” Palmer said. “I don’t know if people are willing to take a drop in services.”
After Millstone was devalued by half in 2001, “taxes were going to double in 10 years,” Palmer said. That has basically happened, a symptom of a smaller grand list, she said.
So, while many of the members might be unhappy with the tax increase, all interviewed said the budgets would likely stay largely intact.
A Call To Action
One problem the RTM has is it doesn’t really know what the public wants, because few people in the public let them know, Palmer said. If people think the taxes are too high, or too low and services need to be restored, they should go to the meetings and voice their opinion, she said.
Because few people attend the budget review, if anybody, it appears people seem largely content with the job the RTM has been doing, Palmer said. If people are not content, they should speak up, she said.
“We are trying to represent the people as best as we can,” Palmer said. “We are guessing the tolerance people have for higher tax increases as best as we can … And there aren’t any services that are easy to cut.”