Before the board of finance started its budget hearings this month, taxes were slated to rise 4.57 percent. After three weeks and five hearings, with the majority of budgets approved, taxes are still on course to go up 4.57 percent.
It is not as if the board hasn’t made any cuts; it has made dozens. The problem is the cuts have been minor (as low as $25), with all them totaling less than $20,000.
To have any effect on the tax rate, the board must cut at least $37,000, which is one-hundredth of one mill, Finance Director Rudie Beers said. If the cuts total less than that, it will have no effect on the taxpayer because the tax rate will stay the same, Beers said.
“I know the cuts are small, but that is our job,” Board of Finance member Alan Wilensky said. “We need to go through each budget and make sure we are only giving what the department needs and can justify.”
A recent example was Monday, when the youth service bureau’s budget was presented. The board pointed out that Youth Service Director Dani Gorman budgeted $300 for postage, when she had spent less than that the past year.
The board motioned for a $50 cut. Gorman protested, saying she uses the postage to send thank-you letters to people who donate to the bureau, but the board approved the cut.
“Every little bit counts,” member J.W. “Bill” Sheehan said in a Tuesday interview.
Cuts Out Of Frustration
The board knows these cuts will have little effect on the budget, but it is “really all we can do,” Wilensky said.
Most of the dollars in department budgets are contractually or statutorily obligated, so there really isn’t much the board can cut, board member George Peteros said. The board of finance does what it can do, he said.
“We will spend a half-hour cutting $50 out of the town clerk’s postage, and then beat our chest like we accomplished something,” Peteros said. “And then will pass a retirement budget with a $1.4 million increase, and not be able to do anything about it.”
Wilensky, Peteros, Sheehan and fellow member Brian Vachris all described their inability to make a larger dent in the budget “frustrating.” But this type of detail sends a message to the budget-builders, Vachris said.
“The department heads have learned,” he said. “We really have cut most of the fat out of this budget.”
Cuts Causing Frustration
Several department heads have grown irritated at the budget hearings over perceived micromanaging, notably Town Planner Tom Wagner and Recreation and Parks Director Brian Flaherty. On Monday, Flaherty grew irritated during questioning from Sheehan about a $4,000 expense, one which Sheehan said Flaherty did not provide the board with adequate justification.
“It is our job to build these budgets with our knowledge of running the department,” Flaherty said. “I think as a board you need to trust us department heads to do that job.”
Sheehan disagreed. If the money isn’t justified, the board can easily cut the expenditure to zero, he said.
Editor's note: The original article stated taxes are expected to rise 6 percent; if the current budget is adopted, they will rise 4.57 percent.