"I Was Just Thinking..."

by Sally J. Buemi
Selectman, Town of North Haven

September 2018

I was just thinking about how quickly the summer has gone by.   Pretty hot and rainy wasn’t it? And now it is early September, and in my mind, it is the start of a new year.   Although my school days and nine years of college are decades behind me, I still think of September as the start of the year.
 
First, I want to wish all the school kids and teachers a wonderful year of fun and learning.  I’m looking forward to the high school football season – you should come out and enjoy a game.  

Next, I want to congratulate the North Haven Fair Association for another great Fair.  I know the weather was not ideal, but there was a decent turnout just the same. As usual, I was there every day, and I won my share of Blue Ribbons – although nothing for my blueberry muffins but at least I had a higher score than my brother!  (There’s always next year, Mike).
 
And finally, let’s talk about Town government.   At the August Board of Finance meeting, we learned that there was a surplus for the 17/18 Fiscal Year Budget that ended on June 30, 2018.  The surplus, the REAL surplus, was 1.7 million dollars.

At the September 6, 2018 Board of Selectmen meeting, Mr. Freda was asked about the amount of the surplus.  He answered that it is $367,000. This is misleading. Quite frankly, it’s wrong. I immediately reminded Mr. Freda that the Board of Finance reported a 1.7 million dollar surplus, and I explained that several revenue sources came in much higher than anticipated.   Although Mr. Freda agreed with my assessment of these revenue sources, he maintained that the surplus was only $367,000.

Mr. Freda suggested that the Finance Director should be contacted to verify the surplus.  And even though I knew the surplus was 1.7 million, I called the Finance Director and he confirmed that the surplus for the 17/18 Fiscal Year is, in fact, $1.7 million.  The surplus goes into the Fund Balance, which is like our savings account.
 
So why did Mr. Freda say it is only $367,000 and more importantly, why would Mr. Freda want you guys to think the surplus was lower than it actually was?  Basically, Mr. Freda subtracted from the 1.7 million, the 1.05 million that we used from the Fund Balance as revenue for the 18/19 Fiscal Year that started July 1st.   He also subtracted the 220,000 allocated for the 18/19 school security guard program that was approved at a June Town Meeting.  But I’m still not sure how he came up with $367,000.

But let me explain something folks.  The Fund Balance is a regular line item in ALL of our yearly revenue budgets.  The amounts vary from year to year, but we almost always use some of the Fund Balance as a revenue source.  But in order to use Fund Balance money, you must have it in the first place – and that is where the $1.7 million surplus comes in.   In the 17/18 Fiscal Year, our expenditure budget was $205,000 under budget – and our revenue budget was $1.5 million over budget. So guess what folks – that means we had a $1.7 million surplus – period – end of story.

So why would the First Selectman say the surplus was only $367,000?  I don’t know, but maybe some folks would question why our mill rate went up for the 18/19 fiscal year if they knew the surplus was $1.7 million.

We have a healthy fund balance – over 8% of our total budget – which is crucial to maintain our AAA rating for bonding.  This Administration loves to emphasize this fund balance, especially when other Towns are struggling. But let’s be clear folks – that fund balance is paid for on the backs of the taxpayers.

Have a great year!

As always, if you have any comments, reasonable criticisms, or suggestions, please feel free to contact me at [email protected] .



August 2018

I was just thinking about the August 14th Primary.   The polls will be open from 6:00 AM to 8:00 PM, and all five polling places will be open.   This means that you will be voting where you normally vote in November elections.

On Tuesday August 14th, there will be a Republican Primary and a Democratic Primary.  The purpose of the primaries is to determine who will be on the ballot in the November general election.

Of course the big question is who will get the nomination for Governor.   The Democrats have 2 candidates, and the Republicans have about 5 or 6, I lost count.   There are other statewide positions up for grabs as well. And for the Democratic Primary, there are 2 candidates for the 34th State Senate seat.
 
It is very important to understand that you MUST be registered as a Republican to vote in the Republican Primary.  Likewise, you MUST be registered as a Democrat to vote in the Democratic Primary. It does not matter how you normally vote each year; what matters is how you are REGISTERED to vote.  If you are not sure, you can call the Registrar’s office at 203-239-5321.    

If you are currently registered as Unaffiliated (and about 8000 voters are unaffiliated), then you are NOT eligible to vote in either of the Primaries on August 14th.  But if you are registered as unaffiliated you can change to Republican or Democrat by noon on Monday August 13th.  To do so, you must register in person, at Town Hall.   

Also, if you are a new voter, for example, you recently became old enough to vote, or you just moved to North Haven, then you also have until noon on the 13th to register with a party to be eligible for that party’s primary.  

If you are currently registered with one of the parties, but you want to change to the other party, it is too late to change your registration to vote on the 14th.   For example, if you are currently a registered democrat, but you want to vote in the republican primary, it is too late to change your registration.

But remember, if you are currently unaffiliated, you can change to one of the parties by noon on the 13th in order to be eligible for that party’s primary.

I hope I haven’t confused you.   Read this again to be clear. I am writing all this because, after speaking with the registrar’s office, I learned that many people do not understand the eligibility rules to vote in a Primary.  Many people get turned away on Primary Day. I want as many people to vote as possible.

Remember, you MUST be registered with a party to vote in that party’s primary.

May the best people win.

As always, if you have any comments, reasonable criticisms, or suggestions, please feel free to contact me at [email protected].




June 2018

I was just thinking about the Special Town Meeting to be held on Monday, June 25, 2018 at 7:00 PM at the High School Auditorium.   Honestly, I haven’t thought about much else since the June 14th Special Board of Selectmen meeting when First Selectman Mike Freda outlined his proposal for a School Security Program.  

This school security program, and the $220,000 to finance the first year thereof, will be the primary focus of the June 25th Town Meeting.  PLEASE, PLEASE ATTEND!!

The security plan involves hiring five armed, well-trained police officers.  We’ve had an officer at the High School for many years. The addition of five more would mean one each at the four elementary schools, and one officer for the Middle School.  

Mr. Freda’s plan is to fill these new positions with retired or soon to be retired North Haven Police Officers.  The Police Commission will then have to hire new officers to replace those that retire for these new positions. Basically, this is an expansion of our police force by creating these 5 new school security positions.  The new security officers will work the 182 days of the school year, which equates to approximately 80% of a full year of employment. The security positions will not include benefits; the retirees will already have all the retirement benefits they are entitled to.  Mr. Freda wants these officers on the job for the upcoming school year.

I support a well-trained, armed security officer for each of our 6 schools.  This is the world we live in folks; Columbine, although almost 20 years ago, still haunts us, and the unbearable tragedy at Sandy Hook 6 years ago is a wound that will never heal.  And after each of the recent school shootings this year in Florida and Texas, I received emails from folks asking what the Town is doing to prevent such a tragedy here.

An armed guard on premises is no guarantee, but the schools will at least feel safer.  To do nothing is to close our eyes to the world around us. And if, God forbid, the unthinkable should happen, and an intruder attempts to harm our school kids, I want a defender there, on site, to do his or her best during those first crucial minutes.  As a citizen, I support Mr. Freda’s initiative.

However, as a member of the Board of Selectmen, I have some concerns.   First, this security plan should have been presented during the recent budgetary process.  This process started in January and ended with the Budget Referendum in mid-May. There were many opportunities for citizens to ask about and discuss issues during that time.    No such discussions took place for this issue because the security plan was not in the proposed budget.

Mr. Freda privately presented this proposal to the Superintendent and BOE Chairman months ago.  It was briefly discussed at the March BOE meeting. Publically, on one occasion that I can recall, Mr. Freda mentioned the idea of school security officers but nothing specific.  Mr. Freda wants these officers on the job for the 18/19 school year, therefore, the security program should’ve been in the 18/19 budget and voted on at Referendum. Instead, this program is coming in through the side door, just weeks after the new budget was finalized.

Mr. Freda says he is complying with the Town Charter by going to a Town Meeting for authorization to use $220,000 from our fund balance.  But he is clearly usurping the normal course of our budgetary process. If the $220,000 for this program was in the budget, the mill rate increase would’ve been even higher.  The budget as presented barely passed by 16 votes. Also, the 5 new police positions might have upset the folks who strongly advocated, unsuccessfully, for more firefighters/paramedics.  The fire dept. was the hot topic during this past budget season, and if the 5 new police positions were in the mix, it could’ve gotten even hotter.

Secondly, the security plan does not allow for any meaningful participation by the Board of Ed.  All hiring will be done by the Police Commission, and the school security program will be exclusively controlled by our police chief.  I have the highest regard for Chief McLoughlin, let me be clear on that; however, I think the BOE should be engaged in the process of school security.

Thirdly, I have some concerns with the long list of duties assigned to these new security officers in the proposed ordinance.  It seems they will be involved with discipline and controlling unruly behavior. We have teachers and school administrators for that; I want these guys to guard the doors!!  (on a side note, why do we even need an ordinance?)

And that leads me to my final concern – the number of doors.  Our schools each have an average of 10 exterior doors. That’s a lot of doors for one security officer to deal with.  I think we need cameras for these doors, especially at the older elementary schools. The cameras would enable the officer to more effectively “patrol” the school.  We should invest in cameras first, then include the new security positions in the next budgetary discussions, and let the voters decide at Referendum. School Administrators tell me the cameras are necessary whether we have armed guards or not.  

I am sure many people will have many opinions on this complex and important issue.  Please come to the Town Meeting on the 25th and be heard.   

As always, if you have any comments, reasonable criticisms, or suggestions, please feel free to contact me at [email protected] .



May 2018

I was just thinking about the May 7 Budget Town Meeting.  Were you there, or have you seen it on NHTV? I was there, and I have just one word to describe how I felt at the conclusion of the meeting—befuddled!

So, what exactly was the cause of my befuddlement?  The answer is simple – there was no presentation explaining the budget for the upcoming 18-19 Fiscal Year.  Sure, the budget books were piled on a table outside the auditorium. But there was no slide show, no colorful pie charts, no breakdown of expenses, no discussion of the new mill rate – nothing!

We heard the Town Clerk read a few large numbers, about five times, and as riveting as that was, I was settled in my seat with pen and paper at the ready, expecting the usual presentations from Mr. Freda (for the town side of the budget) and from Dr. Cronin (for the Education side of the budget).  But there was nothing explained, nothing reviewed. The Moderator just opened up the floor for public comment. If I paid to get in, I would’ve demanded my money back.

There were two public comments, however, that made the trip quite worthwhile.   One gentleman gave an impressive plea for freezing the budget, and another gave an informative perspective on how to best provide emergency medical services (a perspective I could easily support – it might just be time to privatize emergency paramedical services, like many area towns do).

Anyway, back to the Budget.  As I said in my last column, I was especially awaiting the presentation from our school superintendent, Dr. Cronin.   At the April 3 Public Hearing, Dr. Cronin basically presented his budget workshop speech that he gave to the Board of Finance (BOF) the previous month.  But he never explained how the BOE will cope with the significant cuts made by the BOF.

And the Town side of the budget changed drastically after the April 3 Hearing as well.  If you missed the April 18 BOF meeting, then you would not know these changes. As in previous years, I was expecting lots of explanations at the May Budget Town Meeting.  For me, the lack of explanations was no big deal because I know exactly what happened at the April 18 BOF meeting, at least for the town side of the budget. But it’s you guys I’m worried about – you deserved a presentation to assist you in your vote on May 15 – Referendum Day!!

So here’s the deal.  If this budget is approved, the mill rate will increase about 2/3 of a mill.  If your house is ASSESSED at 200,000 your taxes will go up about $130 for the year.   The total budget is 98.9 million, about 2.3 million more than the current budget.

If you care about education, I don’t know what to tell you.   Call Dr. Cronin, maybe he knows. In the budget book provided at the Town Meeting, the BOE expenses listed were based on the 4% budget increase originally requested, and NOT on the 2.7% increase actually given by the BOF.   How the BOE will deal with this reduction is a mystery to me.

The 2/3 mill increase seems reasonable to me.   I was pleased with the spending reductions made by the BOF on April 18.  But with no slide show, no pie charts, especially from Dr. Cronin, I am just too befuddled to tell you how to vote on May 15.  Please vote anyway! All voting will be at the Rec. Center on Linsley Street.

As always, if you have any comments, reasonable criticisms, or suggestions, please feel free to contact me at [email protected]




April, 2018


I was just thinking about the budget for the Fiscal Year 18/19.  Last night (April 18), the Board of Finance (BOF) made significant reductions to the budget that was presented at the April 3rd Public Hearing.  The next step will be the Budget Town Meeting on May 7, followed by the Referendum on May 15.

I was pleased with the larger than usual turnout at the Public Hearing, and I urge citizens to continue to actively participate in this important budgetary process.  So please come to the Town Meeting, and please Vote on Referendum day, with all voting at the Rec. Center on Linsley Street.

Back in March, the BOF proposed a budget with a total spending increase of more than $3.8 million.  In order to fund this initial budget, the mill rate would’ve increased by 1.7 mills. At the Public Hearing, I urged the BOF to reduce spending, with most reductions coming from the Town side of the budget.   

So what did the BOF do last night?  Well, I am pleased to report that significant reductions were realized.  On the town side, $1.3 million was cut. On the Board of Ed. side, $154,000 was cut.  Please keep in mind that there are STILL increases on both sides, but at least the increases are not as large as they were in the initial budget.

The new, revised budget is $98,917,388 – better than the $100,417,551 which was initially proposed.  This revised budget is $2.3 million higher than the current fiscal year budget.

The BOF also made some changes in the funding sources for this revised budget.  The most significant change was an increase in the transfer from the fund balance.  (The fund balance is the Town’s savings account, and we need to maintain a healthy cushion to preserve our AAA rating status).  In this new budget, we are taking $1,050,000 from this fund balance. Back in March, the BOF was only taking $400,000 from the fund balance.

By taking over 1 million from the fund balance, I think we are rolling the dice just a bit.  This increased fund balance transfer puts us below our usual savings cushion. The BOF, however, is hopeful that this deficiency will be made up with a potential surplus for this current budget cycle.  Let’s hope so.

So what does all this mean for you, the taxpayers of North Haven?   The mill rate for this revised budget will increase by about two-thirds of a mill, to approximately 31.18 (the mill rate is currently 30.53).   For a home with an assessed value of 200,000, that would mean a tax increase of about $130 for the year.  

I want to hear the presentations at the May 7 Town Meeting, especially from the Board of Ed., but overall, I am pleased with the efforts thus far by the BOF to minimize the tax increase for next fiscal year.

As always, if you have any comments, reasonable criticisms, or suggestions, please feel free to contact me at [email protected].



March 22, 2018

I was just thinking, still, about the budget for the upcoming 18/19 Fiscal Year.  The workshop portion of the budgetary process is over; meaning that all town dept. heads, and the Board of Ed., have appeared before the Board of Finance (BOF) with their budget requests.

The next big step was last night (March 21) when the BOF met to recommend a budget for discussion and debate at next month’s Public Hearing (April 3).  And oh what a budget it is! Are you ready – it is 4 million dollars higher than the current budget, which would increase the mill rate to approximately 32.20 (the current mill rate is 30.53).

The 4 million dollar increase is as follows:  On the Town side: about a 2.5 million increase (which includes capital expenditures and contingency).  On the Board of Ed. side: about a
1.5 million increase.  

In all fairness, if you watch the BOF meeting, it seems clear that the Budget will be decreased after the Public Hearing and before the Referendum in May.  But this unprecedented initial 4 million dollar increase begs the question: Why start so high in the first place??

My gut feeling tells me this is an attempt to soften the blow of the ultimate mill rate increase.  I predict that when the final budget proposal is presented for referendum, the mill rate will be about 31.80.  The hope might be that you folks will say “at least it is not 32.20” and vote “yes” on referendum day.                     

I do not support this initial budget even though I know full well that it will (and must) be decreased.  The First Selectman emphasized that the total budget increase requested during the workshops was over 6 million.  Well of course it was. The workshop process has always been, and always will be a dream wish list, similar to the Christmas list you made as a child.  In my opinion, reducing that wish list to “only” a 4 million increase was not that great of an accomplishment.

So folks, here is my best advice.  Go to the April 3rd Public Hearing (7:00 PM, High School Auditorium) and ask questions and give opinions.  The BOF will (I hope) respond to what the people say at the Hearing. Please come to the hearing.  Perhaps you want more money spent on education, or the fire dept. Whatever your opinions, this is your chance to be heard.  This is your chance to be part of the budgetary process. This is what our form of government is all about. Please participate!

As always, if you have any comments, reasonable criticisms, or suggestions, please feel free to contact me at [email protected] .



March, 2018

I was just thinking, again, about the budgetary process currently underway for the upcoming Fiscal Year of 18/19.  Specifically, I want to talk more about the Fire Department because I have a new idea.

Briefly, some background.   The Fire Chief has requested eight new firefighters for 18/19 and then eight more for the following year.  (We currently have 35 in the fire dept. including officers, so 16 new people equates to about a 45% increase in personnel).  The Chief cites an increasing number of medical calls, and more contemporaneous medical calls as a primary justification for the proposed increase in personnel.

Although the town population and TOTAL fire dept. calls have not substantially changed in recent years, the percentage of emergency medical calls has gone up.  This is due, in part, to the increase in medical facilities in town, and to the town’s aging population.

In my previous column, I offered a reasonable compromise of hiring four new firefighters, which would put 9 people on each of the 4 shifts.  (We currently have 8-man shifts). I suggested that if the Board of Finance (BOF) is unable to make cuts elsewhere in the budget, perhaps we should wait for 2 years until our tax revenue stream increases from Amazon.

Well, if you watched the February BOF meeting, my compromise was not well received by the Chairman of the Fire Commission.  (I would like to remind the Chairman that I have supported many initiatives on behalf of the Fire Dept., including all recent apparatus purchases.  Perhaps my criticism of the Fire Dept. construction project back in 2015 is still a festering open wound).

So here is my new idea.  I think we should hire two (yes, just two) new fire fighters, both with paramedic qualifications, and have these two work Monday – Friday from 8:00 AM – 4:00 PM, a normal work week.  In contractual terms, this is called Weighted Day Duty, and many towns operate in this fashion.

During the BOF Workshop, the Fire Chief presented statistics about contemporaneous emergency medical calls.  All of his examples took place during weekdays, normal business hours. He explained the logistical problems presented by such calls.  I think my new idea is an appropriate allocation of resources for the times when paramedic services are statistically most in need. This Weighted Day Duty would mean a 10-man shift at the time of greatest need.         

Now would be the perfect time to propose such a change in scheduling because we currently have an open fire dept. contract.  This is the time when such a change can be negotiated into the new collective bargaining agreement. How can anyone argue with an effort to put the most personnel on duty when the needs are greatest?

I understand that contemporaneous calls can come in anytime, but I think my idea deserves a shot.  We can always re-evaluate at a later time. The number one complaint I hear from citizens is the increase in taxes.  We are in difficult times. I think the most conservative approach to solving a problem should be tried first.

I hope Mr. Freda will seriously consider my idea, and not just dismiss it simply because I have suggested it.  I believe in bipartisanship. Let’s see if Mr. Freda does too.

As always, if you have any comments, reasonable criticisms, or suggestions, please feel free to contact me at [email protected]

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February, 2018

I was just thinking about the ongoing budgetary process for the Fiscal year 18/19 Town Budget.  As I referenced in my last column, the various departments have been presenting their workshops before the Board of Finance (BOF).  We still have a few to go, including the always interesting Board of Ed. workshop. And so I will have my final thoughts on the proposed budget next month, after all workshops are completed.  

As I predicted, the Fire Department portion of the budget is a central focus this year, and since that workshop has already been presented, I would like to address Fire Chief Paul Januszewski’s specific proposals.  

First, some background.  The Fire Department has been at the forefront in recent months because of a tragic event that occurred last August.  The Fire Department responded to a house fire, and thereafter, a 911 call came in for a medical emergency at a residence.  Police department personnel responded to the residence within 5 minutes of the call and administered CPR and other medical attention.  However, no fire dept. paramedics responded because of the contemporaneous house fire. Tragically, the resident passed away. As a result of this incident, there has been a focus on allocating more resources to our fire dept.   

Chief Januszewski gave a detailed presentation to the BOF with emphasis on the increase in medical calls.  The Chief is requesting 8 new firefighters this year, and 8 more next year. We currently have 28 firefighters, along with 7 officers and administrators, for a current total of 35 in the dept.  Therefore, adding 16 new personnel over the next 2 years would constitute a dramatic increase.

When I first heard of the Chief’s expansion plans, I was floored to say the least.  However, I have taken it upon myself to learn as much about fire dept. operations as possible.  I’ve spoken with many professionals, including fire chiefs in other towns with similar population.  I’ve also consulted with our Chief and the Fire Commission Chairman. I have reviewed countless municipal statistics.  I’ve learned so much, especially about the minimum number of personnel that must be assigned to each type of fire apparatus (Rescue, Engine and Ladder Truck).

I also learned that many towns similar to ours rely exclusively on Volunteers for fire suppression, and medical calls are handled by private ambulance services.  And I learned that our fire dept. operates with 4 shifts of 8 men each – 7 firefighters and 1 lieutenant. These shifts work for 24 hours straight, then have 3 days off.

I believe that many of Chief Januszewski’s arguments have merit.  However, I cannot support the extent of the expansion he seeks. I believe that it would be appropriate to hire 4 new firefighters, which would than mean 9 people per shift.

We have 2 medical rescue vehicles.  Rescue vehicles require 2 people. A 9-person shift would allow for both medical rescue units to be out on calls at the same time, or 4 people.  This leaves 5 at the station to man the engine (3 people) and the ladder truck (2 people) in the event of a contemporaneous fire. This would drastically improve the department’s ability to address the increasing number of medical emergencies.  Right now, only one medical rescue vehicle can be utilized at a time.

So I think we need 4 new people; the question is WHEN do we hire them?  I know that most citizens in Town are very concerned with rising taxes. It is extremely difficult to balance needs and taxes.  Within the next 2 years, the town will be realizing additional revenue from the Amazon project. But when it comes to public safety, can we or should we wait that long?

This is the difficult question before the BOF.  If very significant cuts in other parts of the budget can be made now, then we should hire 4 new firefighters now.  But if the BOF is unable, or unwilling to make cuts, we might need to hold off a year or two. I urge folks to attend the April 3 Budget Public Hearing, and make your feelings heard.


As always, if you have any comments, reasonable criticisms, or suggestions, please feel free to contact me at [email protected]

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January, 2018

I was just thinking about the budgetary process for the upcoming fiscal year of 18/19.  I urge all citizens to attend or watch the January 17 Board of Finance (BOF) meeting. At that meeting, an INITIAL budget will be discussed, and the Department of Public Works workshop will be held.

The workshops allow each Town Department (and the Bd. of Ed) to come before the BOF with their funding requests.  The Bd. of Ed workshop is on Feb. 3, 2018 (a Saturday) at 8:45 AM.

Unfortunately, the BOF does not allow public comment at the workshops.  I’ve asked several times over recent years, but they say no. The BOF chairman claims the citizens can speak at the budget public hearing, which this year is on April 3, after the budget is basically a done deal.  Although the citizens elect the BOF to propose a budget, the final say is with all you guys at referendum, so you should be allowed input, even if limited to five minutes, at the workshop level of the process.

As for the budget itself, all I can say is that we are in uncertain financial times.  We will have a new governor soon, and it is difficult to know what he/she will do. From my perspective, the number one complaint I hear from folks is property tax increases.  We’ve had plenty in the past 8 years or so, don’t let anyone fool you.

The Board of Selectmen had its own workshop on the 8th, and we are recommending a total budget increase between 1 to 1.5 %.    I advocated for the increase to be as close to 1% as possible. The budget has two parts; the Town side (police, fire, public works, etc.) and the Bd. of Ed.  I think the 1% increase on the Town side is do-able because only about 30% of the Town budget is salary driven. On the Bd. of Ed side, it is more difficult because salaries make up about 60% of their budget.  Keep this in mind when you hear a lot about “contractual obligations” during the next few months.

As for the golden egg called Amazon, don’t get me started.  We will have two more fiscal years before any of that tax revenue hits our cash register.  Lots of stuff still has to happen before one shovel goes in the ground. And don’t expect Amazon to solve everything.   Amazon will bring in about $4 million in new tax revenue per year. But keep in mind that our budgets have been increasing an average of 2 million per year.  You do the math.

There is only one answer, especially in the short term.  We need to cut spending – period. I already have some ideas, but I want to hear the workshops first.  The fire dept. will be a hot topic (no pun intended) this budgetary season, and for good reason. But I do think we need to add 1 new firefighter to help (hopefully) alleviate the out of control overtime in that dept.  And we should cut our contingency fund by 50% (150,000), just in the short term. We hardly ever touch it. I will have more spending cut ideas soon.

In summary, we need to tighten our budgetary belt.  Once the mill rate goes up, that’s it. It won’t come down, even if we get all this new economic development that we constantly hear about.  So fasten your seat belts, we’ve got a few bumpy months ahead. PAY ATTENTION!!

By the way, I hope you all survived that cold spell, keep an eye on your oil tank gauge, and keep pets inside.  

As always, if you have any comments, reasonable criticisms, or suggestions, please feel free to contact me at [email protected]

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December, 2017

I was just thinking about the Special Board of Selectmen (BOS) Meeting which took place on December 11, 2017.  Actually, it was a combined meeting with the Board of Ed. and the Middle School Building Committee. (MSBC) This event was appropriately arranged by the BOS to be an informative meeting, and it was in response to a petition filed by 20 of our fellow well-meaning and concerned citizens.  The petition was seeking a financial review of the middle school building project.
 
So let’s get to it.  First, we now have a beautiful state-of-the-art educational facility for our middle-schoolers.  We should. It cost $70 million (if you include pre-referendum expenses). We have a new
2-story academic wing; we renovated as new the café, auditorium, and gyms; and, oh yes, we have two new crumb rubber filled, synthetic turf, multi-purpose athletic fields (but no bleachers, so bring your own chairs).

Secondly, we must thank the volunteer Building Committee members for hundreds of hours of dedicated service.  I especially want to acknowledge Ms. Vissicchio and Ms. Spader, who both always seemed to go that extra mile.  
 
The project came in on time, and within budget (so they say).  But not everything that was planned was actually done (you’ll be paying for those bleachers later).  At the meeting, Middle School Committee Chairman Gary Johns went through a long list of specific construction items, many of which were rejected.  With regard to what was done, we were on budget.

So let’s talk about the December 11th meeting itself.  Overall, it was a well-run meeting and I commend Mr. Freda for keeping things under control.  Questions were answered and helpful information was provided. I think folks were pleasantly surprised in light of past tumultuous experiences.  
 
I want to address, once and for all, the “only 20 people” argument that prevailed since the petition for review was filed in October.  The petition was filed pursuant to a state law. The law says 20 people, yes 20, can request the BOS to call a special town meeting to discuss and possibly accomplish some purpose.  This is a RIGHT for all citizens.

But some folks wanted to brush aside the petition because it was only 20 trouble-makers.  At the November 6th Middle School Building Committee meeting, Chairman Johns actually said the petitioners were “a small group who want to discredit the project.”  No Mr. Johns, these folks wanted answers about their tax dollars, and they filed the petition because, for many months, they were not getting answers.   And contrary to Attorney D’Onofrio’s clearly stated opinion at the same meeting, it IS everybody’s business how money gets spent (watch the meeting on the Town’s website, fast forward to minutes 58-60).  
 
The “only 20” argument is un-American.   Before each BOS meeting, we all stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance to our most beautiful flag, which ends with “liberty and justice for all.”  This Pledge does NOT end with “liberty and justice for some.” One more thing – about 240 years ago, a group of about 24 men, known as the Sons of Liberty (you know, Paul Revere, Sam Adams, John Hancock, Joseph Warren, etc.), met secretly, wrote pamphlets, signed petitions, dumped tea in the harbor, and caused a revolution that resulted in the birth of our country.  If those guys were “trouble-makers,” then I say long live the trouble-makers.

For me, this petition was about the turf fields.  Over time, I was convinced that crumb rubber fill is a potential health hazard, especially for children, and I wanted to wait for a current federal study to be completed.  Mrs. Alicia Clapp, a retired educator, circulated the petition, and she also had concerns about the building itself. But for me, I wanted to know what aspects of the project were sacrificed to guarantee enough money for two turf fields.

I think one turf field, with sand fill, should have been done.  Then we could have had our bleachers, scoreboards, and the new track at Vanacore field.  This track was part of the original project because middle schoolers, the ones the school was built for, use the track for gym.  We MIGHT still get the track, but it was put on the back burner. Extra money was spent to include football on one multi-purpose field, even though there is no football at the Middle School.  That bothered people, myself included, and I love football.

And that leads to my final comment.  These turf fields were a done deal from day one.  Look at the MSBC minutes from the very first meeting on October 7, 2013.  Mr. Freda opened the meeting and announced “he [meaning Mr. Freda] intends to add an additional member to the committee to provide a voice to the parents with regard to sports fields.  He would like to add Dave Mikos.” That is a direct quote from the approved minutes, and the rest, as they say, is history. (By the way, Mr. Mikos, a dedicated and hard-working volunteer, is the President of the North Haven Youth Football program – a well-run private league).   I confess, this whole process reminds me of the smoke-filled, back-room politics of old. I desperately want to think we are better than that.

As always, if you have any comments, reasonable criticisms, or suggestions, please feel free to contact me at [email protected]

___

November, 2017

I was just thinking about the recent local election.  First, I want to thank the voters, my family and my friends for supporting me.  I look forward to another two years on the Board of Selectmen. I pledge to continue to work hard, to offer my own ideas and suggestions, and to foster civil discourse of the issues.  I will also continue to keep the citizens informed to the best of my ability.

Secondly, I want to congratulate Mr. Freda on his re-election, and I welcome Mr. Pieper to the Board.  I am not quite sure why Mr. Freda needed to say he won with 85 % of the vote when, in fact, it was 80% which is impressive enough.  Regardless, I am hopeful to work together in a cooperative and productive manner for the best interests of all North Haveners.

I also want to commend Mr. Sturtz for his hard-fought campaign.  Mr. Sturtz has a long record of government and community service, and I am sure he will continue to contribute positively as a member of the Town’s Economic Development Commission.

It was an interesting election season to say the least.  In my mind, the election process goes back to May; specifically, to the May 31 Special BOS meeting regarding a petition request to review the crumb rubber synthetic fields at the Middle School.  (By the way, the fields are in if you want to go over and take a look). At that meeting, I said it was prudent to wait for the comprehensive federal study on potential health risks before installing the crumb rubber.  My position was a bit unpopular with some folks, to put it mildly, and as a result, some interesting things happened.

First, my house was vandalized several times, which, as a life-long resident with decades of service to town athletics, was quite unsettling to me.  (Not to mention the bad example vandalism sets for our youth; but if you watched that May 31 meeting, you will know that some adults have little concern for the examples they set).

Secondly, my position on crumb rubber spawned an interesting yet failed attempt to defeat my re-election.  There was a mysterious petition candidate on the ballot for the office of Selectman, which meant, in effect, that FIVE people were running for the three spots on the Board of Selectmen.  I know very well the forces behind this effort to defeat me, and again, I thank the voters for supporting me. (On a side note, 2 years ago, when a citizen petitioned the Board of Ed. to remove the Indian as our high school mascot, certain folks came to me for help, knowing I was a varsity athlete at NHHS.  I was the only BOS member who spoke out at the BOE meeting in support of keeping the Indian mascot, and those folks wildly applauded me. These were the same folks who heckled me and yelled rude insults during the May 31 BOS meeting. Oh well).

The third interesting thing that happened during this campaign, and perhaps the most unsettling of all, was that I was not allowed to write this column during the election season.  I was told I could resume my column after the election, so here I am. I was told in July that due to space limitations, no political columns would be allowed. Yet, about 6 weeks ago, a political column by State Rep. Yaccarino was published.  He wrote about the state budget. I submitted a column on the same subject, but it was rejected for publication because in my column, I disagreed with something Mr. Freda had said at a Board of Finance meeting. I was told I could not “campaign” in my column (even though I wasn’t running against Mr. Freda).   It was strange because in 2015, when I was a candidate for re-election, there was no such suppression of my column. I couldn’t help but wonder, what, or who, was really behind this change in publication policy.

So here we are, the election is over, and I will put all this stuff behind me, and move forward to fulfill the obligations of my Office.  Democracy, although sometimes hanging by a thread, is still alive and well here in North Haven.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!

As always, if you have any comments, reasonable criticisms, or suggestions, please feel free to contact me at [email protected]


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September, 2017

I was just thinking about the State budget.  We all know the problems the folks in Hartford have had in the past 6 months trying to pass a budget.  But there is a glimmer of hope. On September 15, a two-year budget was passed by the state legislature, and now we are anxiously wondering if Governor Malloy will veto it.  I hope he does not.

I like this budget because it is good for North Haven.  According to State Representative Dave Yaccarino, our town will get the same state aid for the current fiscal year, and an increase in state aid the following year.  (Dave tells me Senator Len Fasano agrees with these conclusions, but I was unable to reach Mr. Fasano).

When I consulted with Mr. Yaccarino, his budget analysis was far different from the bleak and uncertain picture painted by First Selectman Freda at the September 20 Board of Finance meeting.  First of all, there is nothing to indicate that we will ever lose 3.6 million in state aid, a figure consistently tossed about by Mr. Freda at the meeting. That 3.6 million dates back to the Governor’s initial proposal in February.  But the Governor does not pass the budget, the state legislature does. The 3.6 is way off the table.

Secondly, Mr. Freda said if the State budget that was passed on September 15 actually takes effect, North Haven will still lose about $521,000 in state aid this year.   Mr. Yaccarino says that is not accurate, and in light of the documentation he recently provided to me, I believe we will get the same state aid. Perhaps Mr. Freda did not have this documentation at the time of the September 20 finance meeting.

I appreciate that Mr. Freda must take a conservative approach when anticipating state revenue, but sometimes he can be too cautious.  The 2016 budget season is a good example. Back then, the Freda Administration said it would be “a miracle” if we got 1.4 million in state aid known as MRSA.  Again, a bleak picture was painted, but in the end, we got the 1.4 million, just as I knew we would because I called Hartford and they said we would. Also that year, the Freda Administration reduced the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) state revenue line item by $350,000 (just a few weeks before the Referendum) and, in the end, we got $500,000 more from ECS instead.  It is easier to have a town surplus when you underestimate state revenue.

Let’s get back to the State budget.  Of course my first priority is state aid to North Haven, but I also care about social services for our citizens in need.  This September 15 budget maintains these services and very importantly, it does not pass the cost of teacher’s pensions to municipalities.  That cost will stay with the State where it belongs since the State negotiated the pension deal. And previously proposed tax increases were removed from this budget, always a plus in my book.

I also care about education, and I am concerned about reductions to UCONN (two of my three college degrees are from Storrs).  The State budget passed on September 15 reduces funding to UCONN by about $220 million, again, according to Mr. Yaccarino. But tough times require tough decisions, and hopefully this reduction will result in controlling high administrative costs at UCONN, but keep education programs in place.

In summary, I support the State budget passed on September 15.  Even if it is not perfect, we must go forward, especially when it comes to municipal aid.  We need a budget in place, and the legislature can always amend later if necessary. And here in North Haven, be prepared for the upcoming Town budget season starting in January.  There will be no tax revenue help from Amazon yet. And beware of local officials who constantly point to Hartford to justify the need to raise taxes.

As always, if you have any comments, reasonable criticisms, or suggestions, please feel free to contact me at [email protected]  (I want to thank the Advisor for resuming the publication of this column).

___

July, 2017

I was just thinking about summer.  Wonderful, glorious summer. Ah, to be 14 again – too young to get a job, but old enough to go off on your own without parental supervision.  Speaking of which, we are only a few weeks into summer, and already I’ve witnessed lots of questionable bike-riding/skate-boarding. Please kids, be careful out there, and try to avoid busy roads like Ridge, Pool, Clintonville and Sackett Point.  And if you are riding with several friends, you should all be on the same side of the road, travelling WITH traffic – Let’s have a safe summer.

And how are all you drivers doing with this State road paving fiasco?  The Route 103 artery of Quinnipiac, Maple, Church and a bit of Washington Ave. is currently underway.  Please remember folks, this is a STATE project. The milling was done more than 2 weeks ago, and the paving has finally begun.  In the meantime, we had to deal with an obstacle course of raised structures and business entrances. My office is on Quinnipiac, so to my fellow Montoweseans (?), I feel your pain.

Let’s talk about Amazon (I will die happy if I never have to say “enduser” again).  I want to commend Mr. Freda for his efforts to bring Amazon to our humble hamlet. I support the project; it is good for the Town, not only for additional tax revenue and furthering other development, but also for employment opportunities.
 
At $255 million, it is a huge project, but not the $400 million we were told last November when we granted Amazon’s request to amend our tax incentive ordinance.  We gave them a 50% reduction in building fees. We were told last November that even with the reduction, we would still take in one million in building fees from this project.  But last month, we were told it would be only $600,000 – flag on the play. Oh well.
 
Mr. Freda says that if you combine some other anticipated projects on northern Washington Avenue, we will get to the one million in fees.  Maybe so, but we already considered potential further development in the first place back when we agreed to the building fee reduction. We did not get what we bargained for, plain and simple.  That’s why last November, I advocated for waiting until we knew the actual scope of the project (not the anticipated scope) before we played our building fee hand.

Most people I’ve spoken with support the Amazon project.  Some, understandably, have concerns about traffic. But let’s face it, the northern Washington Avenue of the 1960s is a fond yet distant memory.  Back then, all we had up there was D’Addio’s, the Little Red Shoe House, the Drive-in Theater, and, oh yeah, Pratt & Whitney, with its namesake package store for thirsty factory workers.

I’m not overly concerned about the passenger vehicle traffic that will be created by the Amazon employees.  Pratt & Whitney had far more employees, and back then, Route 5 was only one lane in each direction. Of course back then there was much less development up there, but I still think we will be ok.  However, the truck traffic might be a different story.

The completion of Valley Service Road should help keep Amazon truck traffic off southern Washington Ave.  But I think we should make the northern portion of Valley Service Road one way, starting about 800 feet north of The Game entrance, with traffic restricted to a southerly direction only.  Trucks leaving Amazon for southerly destinations could travel down Valley Service Road to the Exit 11 entrance ramp without ever reaching Route 22.

If we allow two-way traffic the entire length of Valley Service Road, Amazon trucks coming FROM the south will get off exit 11, and have to turn left onto Route 22.  That would be difficult given the traffic back-up we already have at that location. Something to think about. I’m hopeful that Amazon trucks will mostly use Exit 13, with access to the sight via Defco Park Road.  Exit 12 should be off limits at all cost. Only time will tell.

One last thing – I want to congratulate the NHHS class of 2017, and I wish them well in their future endeavors.

As always, if you have any comments, reasonable criticisms, or suggestions, please feel free to contact me at [email protected]

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June, 2017

I was just thinking about February 3, 1959.  On that date, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper died in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa.  In Pop “American Pie” Culture, that date is known as the day the music died. Well, I have another date for you – May 31, 2017 – the day Democracy died in North Haven.

First, some background.  There is a state law, called Section 7-1(a), that says 20 town inhabitants can petition the Board of Selectmen (BOS) to convene, or call, a Town Meeting.  On May 25, 2017, such a Petition, signed by 53 people, was filed at the Town Clerk’s Office.
This Petition requested a Town Meeting for two purposes, both involving the Middle School Building Committee (MSBC).  The first purpose was to POSTPONE the MSBC decision to construct two CRUMB RUBBER fill synthetic turf fields; or secondly, to construct grass fields instead.  Please know that synthetic turf fields need a “fill” to make them playable. There are many kinds of fill. Crumb rubber, made from recycled tires, is the type of fill selected by the MSBC.  The Petitioners were concerned with the fill, not the turf fields themselves.

Once a Section 701(a) petition is filed, the BOS must meet to decide whether to call the Town Meeting.  The Statute says the BOS “shall” (which means “must” under Connecticut law and practice) call the Town Meeting as long as the Petition concerns a legitimate legislative purpose.  The real question is whether a Town Meeting can modify or change a MSBC decision. Of course it can, and Section 901B of our Town Charter gives the Town Meeting general oversight authority over any board.  

Here in North Haven, we have a BOS/Town Meeting form of government.  That means the Town Meeting is the legislative body in our local government.  And ALL electors are eligible to vote at Town Meeting, so you are the legislators.  It is democracy in its purest form, dating back to our earliest history as a municipality.  

Some may argue that North Haven has outgrown this form of government, or that other forms, such as mayor/council or representative town meeting are more efficient.  But as long as our current Charter is in effect, this is the system we live by.

In my 3 ½ years on the BOS, I have always cast my votes in support of this Town Meeting system.  For example, every April, I always vote “yes” to call the Budget Town Meeting EVEN IF I do not support the proposed budget or certain parts thereof.  In 2015, I strongly opposed the proposed budget (which was ultimately defeated at referendum) but I still voted to call the Town Meeting because I believe, first and foremost, in our form of government.

Another example is the Senior Tax Freeze Ordinance last year.  There were some provisions in that ordinance that I did not like, but I still voted “yes” to call the Town Meeting so that our legislative body (you guys) could decide.

So let’s get back to the Petition, and May 31, 2017.   That was the day we had a Special BOS meeting to decide whether to call the Town Meeting.   The BOS declined to call the requested Town Meeting. It was a 2 -1 vote. I was the only one in favor of calling the Town Meeting, to let the town legislators decide.  

A favorite argument AGAINST calling the Town Meeting was that the Town already voted on the fields.  Synthetic turf fields were included in the Middle School project budget before the referendum. That is true, but there was never any specific discussion on the type of fill, and the referendum question itself only mentioned “athletic fields.”

Others argued we already had a Town Meeting for this matter.  But they are referring to the Town Meeting that FORMED the Middle School Building Committee, and authorized it to determine the scope of the project.  But again, crumb rubber fill was not specifically discussed at that time.

Since the 2014 middle school referendum, there has been a much greater awareness of potential health risks from crumb rubber.  Last year, Hamden abandoned crumb rubber for a cork and coconut fill for their new fields. The Connecticut legislature just passed a law this year banning crumb rubber from playgrounds.  And on May 22, 2017, the North Haven Conservation Commission issued a proclamation asking the Board of Ed and MSBC to postpone the crumb rubber fill decision until after the current, comprehensive federal study is complete.  Maybe those folks who signed that Petition are on to something. That’s why I voted to call the Town Meeting.

My fellow members of the BOS voted not to call the Town Meeting because, they said, one Town Meeting can’t overturn the actions of another Town Meeting.  Well guess what, that happens all the time. Last November, we had a Town Meeting that changed the building fee provisions of our Tax Incentive Ordinance.  That was a Town Meeting overturning a previous Town Meeting. And by the way, I voted to call that November Town Meeting even though I was against the timing of the building fee amendment.  I still believe in democracy.

As always, if you have any comments, reasonable criticisms, or suggestions, please feel free to contact me at [email protected]

__

May, 2017

​I was just thinking about the proposed budget for fiscal year 17/18.  The
Referendum will be on Tuesday, May 16, 2017 from 6:00 AM to 8:00 PM, and all
voting will take place at the Rec. Center on Linsley Street.  I urge all
citizens to vote.

It was an unusually challenging budget season because of the uncertainty, or
should I say the chaos of state funding.   North Haven is lucky because we
do not rely heavily on state funding in our revenue budget.  (For example,
the total current fiscal year budget is approximately $94.5 million and only
about $6.2 milling was budgeted as revenue from state funding).   But still,
a million here or there can have a significant impact on that all-important
mill rate.   

This year, it was a frustrating process to say the least.  The Governor was
saying one thing, but other folks (like our state elected officials) were
telling me something else.  I was feeling optimistic that our Town's state
funding would be fine but nothing was ever definite.  First, I would know
more by late March, then by mid-April, then by early May.  Today is May 11,
and the uncertainty continues.  

So exactly what will we be voting on at Referendum on May 16?   The proposed
17/18 total budget is $96.5 million, about $2 million more than this year,
but there will be no tax increase.  The mill rate will remain at 30.53.   I
commend the First Selectman and Board of Finance for presenting a no tax
increase budget.

So how do we cover an extra 2 million in spending without raising taxes?
First, we are taking lots of money from the fund balance (about 1.7
million), which means we are using left over money from previous years
where, in my opinion, you folks were over-taxed.  Second, this proposed
budget anticipates an additional 1 million in revenue from building fees
related to the Pratt & Whitney property (as of May 11, we are STILL waiting
for that big announcement).  And we are also collecting a bit more in taxes
because of a small increase in the grand list. 

So there you go, there's your proposed no tax increase budget.  Please keep
in mind that this budget has, on the revenue side, a $1 million reduction in
state funding (from the current $6.2 million down to $5.2 million).  The
reduction is NOT 3.6 million, in our budget, as Mr. Freda claims.

I support this budget, and urge you to vote "yes" on May 16.  It is
difficult to oppose a no-tax increase budget even if there are a few things
you don't like.   Also, if this budget is defeated, the Board of Finance
will reduce spending, and education always suffers the most.  I would not
want that to happen.  The proposed 17/18 Education budget has a reasonable
1.7% increase over this year.  And that increase is driven by contractual
obligations with the teacher's union.

For the Town's operating budget, there is a 2.5% increase which equals
$1,080,773 in additional spending.  Only about $430,000 of that increase is
related to contractual obligations with the various Town labor unions.  The
other $600,000 in increased spending is spread throughout the various Town
departments   I have issues with some of those increases, but as I said,
overall I support this budget because the mill rate is unchanged.  

The big story this year on the spending side of our budget is the savings
realized by going to a self-insured model for the Town's health insurance.
Again, I commend the First Selectman for his efforts in this regard.  I
support this decision, and I think in the future, we will see more
municipalities joining forces to save on health insurance administrative
costs.

Don't forget to vote on May 16.

As always, if you have any comments, reasonable criticisms, or suggestions,
please feel free to contact me at [email protected]


___

April, 2017

I was just thinking about the recent decision to approve two crumb rubber synthetic turf fields as part of our Middle School construction project.  These fields were approved, in accordance with existing Board of Ed. specifications, at a recent meeting of the Middle School Building Committee.
 
First, some background.  Prior to the June 2014 Middle School Referendum, there were many presentations and town meetings about the specifics of the proposed Middle School construction project. The synthetic turf fields were a part of the project, and it was approved overwhelmingly at the Referendum.
In early 2015, we started to hear about potential health hazards associated with the crumb rubber fill used in the synthetic turf.  Nancy Alderman, from Environment and Human Health, Inc., spoke before the Middle School Committee and at two Board of Selectmen (BOS) meetings.  Ms. Alderman, a North Haven resident, claims that the crumb rubber, from recycled tires, causes cancer. Additionally, we started to read about other area Towns struggling with concerns about crumb rubber.  Hamden decided against crumb rubber, and instead opted for a cork/coconut fill for one of its new synthetic fields.
 
I attempted my own research by contacting the American Medical Association and the American Cancer Society.  Neither organization would take a position on the issue, claiming more research is necessary.

Then Senator Blumenthal got involved and helped to convince the Federal Government to conduct a comprehensive study on crumb rubber.  That study is ongoing, and most likely, will require at least another year of work.

So here we are in April 2017, and the two crumb rubber fields are a go.  We discussed this matter at our April BOS meeting, and since then, folks have contacted me with great concerns.  Mr. Freda, in typical fashion, has avoided the merits of the issue by saying it’s too late because the Board of Ed and Middle School Committee have spoken.  He emphasizes the BOS has no power to change the decision.

While it is true that the Board of Ed specifications control the aspects of the project, and the Middle School Committee decides what is affordable, the members of the BOS can still provide input into the discussion.  To his credit, Second Selectman Tim Doheny, who generally supports the fields, has stated that he is not 100 percent convinced on the safety issue.

For my part, I emphasized that the Federal study is still ongoing.  I asked the Town Attorney if this synthetic field decision was etched in stone.  Basically, he said any “relief” must come from the Board of Education. I interpreted this to mean that if folks are unhappy, they must appeal to the Board of Ed.

The next Board of Ed. meeting is Thursday, May 11, 2017, starting at 6:30 PM at the Town Hall Annex.  At the April meeting, three citizens voiced their concerns about crumb rubber to the Board of Ed. If any change is to be effectuated, a lot more will have to show up at the May meeting.
 
At the April BOS meeting, Gary Johns, the chairman of the Middle School Committee, urged citizens to go to the website of the CT Dept. of Public Health for more detailed information about crumb rubber synthetic turf.  I took his advice. The website says current crumb rubber studies do NOT show elevated health risks, but “there is still uncertainty and additional investigation is warranted.” That was enough for me.

The Building Committee chose a cool fill crumb rubber product for these fields, which means the crumb rubber is encapsulated.  But it is my understanding that this cool fill only helps control the temperature of the turf. It remains uncertain if the encapsulation helps to negate any potential health hazards.
All of my life, I have been a strong supporter of school and Town athletics – as a player, coach, umpire and sponsor with many teams.   I respect the role that sports can play in the development of our children. But health must always be the top priority, and I think it would be prudent to postpone our synthetic turf decision until after the Federal study is completed.  I plan to write letters to the Chairman of the Board of Ed and the Middle School Building Committee soon. You can do likewise if you feel the same.

As always, if you have any comments, reasonable criticisms, or suggestions, please feel free to contact me at [email protected]

__

March, 2017

I was just thinking about the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year of 17/18.  The March 15 Board of Finance (BOF) meeting has come and gone, and we still don’t know the exact budget situation.  And I am fine with that. As I said in my previous column, we should wait as long as possible to determine our state aid before we finalize the budget.  And that is exactly what we will do; so now the April 19 BOF meeting is critical. Before that meeting, however, there will be a budget public hearing on April 4, at 7:00 P.M. at the High School.   Please attend.

Let me give you some background.   On February 8, the Governor gave a budget speech which outlined some serious reductions in state aid to towns like North Haven.  For the current fiscal year of 16/17, we budgeted to receive a total of $6.2 million in state aid: $3.6 million to education, and $2.6 million to the town.

After the Governor’s speech, all sorts of predictions were made ranging from a loss of $6.2 million to $7.4 million in state aid to North Haven.  (I was never quite sure how we could “lose” $7.4 million when we currently get only $6.2 million, but I digress). Anyway, a bleak picture was painted to prepare you folks for the worst.

Then we get the initial proposed budget at the March BOF meeting, and the predicted state aid totaled $5.2 million.  Not so bad. But I still think it will change, and Mr. Freda was correct to explain that this initial budget was just a starting point.  He appropriately explained that we can make changes at the April BOF meeting when we have a clearer picture on the state aid front.

My problem with this initial budget is with spending.  And it is on the spending side of the budget that the town is more in control of its budgetary destiny.  On the revenue side, we do our best to predict the various revenue sources.

Back in the beginning, at the January 9 Board of Selectmen budget workshop, there was optimistic talk of no tax increase for 17/18, and a goal of keeping the budget spending increase at 2.5%.  (There is ALWAYS an increase folks, but the 2.5% seemed reasonable to me). But this initial budget has a spending increase of 3.2% (or $3,043,934 over the current year). The Town government budget has a 3.9% increase, and the board of ed. increase is a more reasonable 2.9% increase.  When you factor in a reduction in the capital budget (a very small part overall) you get the net increase of 3.2%.

That’s too much!  I urge the BOF to reduce the budget down to a 2.5% increase, which would require a $690,000 reduction.  And if the revenue sources go up, all the better, I would still reduce expenditures by $690,000 and finally give the taxpayers the break they need and deserve.

The initial budget proposal, with the 3.2% increase in spending, currently equates to an increase in the mill rate of about one-third of a mill.  If your house is assessed at 200,000 then your taxes will go up about $70.00. I agree that doesn’t sound like much, but when you look at the unnecessary tax increase from last year, it becomes more bothersome.  

Last year, at the April BOF meeting, they easily cut spending by $938,949 because, allegedly, of ANTICIPATED reductions in state aid in the exact same amount.   If you reduce both the revenue and expense sides of the budget by the same amount, guess what, the mill rate stays the same – which was an increase of 3.8%. (Oh, by the way, those “anticipated” state revenue reductions actually came in $891,073 more than budgeted).  Overtaxed again!

This, folks, is why even a tax increase of $70 is too much for me.  I will only support a budget with absolutely no tax increase - none!   And if the state aid for 17/18 is more than initially anticipated, we should have, dare I say, a reduction in the mill rate.

As always, if you have any comments, reasonable criticisms, or suggestions, please feel free to contact me at [email protected]

__

February, 2017

I was just thinking about the Governor’s PROPOSED cuts to municipal aid, and the potential impact on North Haven’s budget.  If you’ve been reading local newspapers and/or watching recent North Haven Board of Finance (BOF) meetings, you might sense a wave of panic.

But I say:  DON’T PANIC, it is far too soon to predict the state aid North Haven will ultimately receive for the upcoming 17/18 Fiscal year.

According to my reliable sources, including our state representative, IF North Haven’s state aid is cut, (emphasis on IF), the reduction will be far, far less than the variety of figures you’ve seen in recent local newspapers.  

These recent predictions include cuts ranging from $4.9 million, $6.2 million (according to Mr. Freda), and $7.4 million (again, according to Mr. Freda).  It’s enough to make your head spin, which might just be the intended result.

My best advice is to pay attention.  Read the paper, and more importantly, watch or attend BOF and Board of Selectmen (BOS) meetings.  It is hard to fool an informed citizenry. We are in the midst of budget season, and the March 15, 2017 BOF meeting will be critical.  Decisions will be made that will have a direct impact on your checkbook.

So let me give you some background.  The 17/18 budget season officially started with the January 9 BOS workshop.  Things went smoothly and there was great optimism of no tax increase, even though we knew then that we would most likely lose $1.4 million in MRSA state aid.  

MRSA stands for Municipal Revenue Sharing Account.  We’ve been getting about $1.4 million in MRSA money from the state each year for quite some time.  It has been a regular line item in our yearly revenue budget, including our current 16/17 budget. This money can only be used for certain stuff, mostly related to streets, roads, and winter storms.  We must put this MRSA money in a separate account, and we currently have over $900,000 in this account, and we haven’t yet received this year’s money, which we will get (again, according to my sources).  But for 17/18, it looks like MRSA aid will either disappear, or be drastically reduced.
 
With all that said, there was still great hope of no tax increase for the 17/18 budget because of growth in the grand list, surpluses from previous years and other factors.  But then the Governor gave his budget speech on February 8 and everything, shall we say, hit the fan. As a result, there are estimates of taxes going up by $500 per average household, and even more, much more, if you own a bigger than average house.

But here is the problem, and it’s been a problem for years, even back in the 1980s when I served on the BOF.  It is a timing problem. We might not know our state aid figures in time to prepare our budget. Our Charter has very specific requirements prior to the budget referendum.  However, we can change the budget after the April 4th  Public Hearing, but before the Referendum.  In fact, we did exactly that last year. We can make changes if we receive an update on state aid amounts.

Our Town leaders must keep in constant contact with out state representatives and senators.  Within a few weeks, I am hopeful to have a better understanding of our state aid. It will NOT be the doom that is currently predicted.  I am confident that the Governor’s budget proposals will not stand. And I remain hopeful for no tax increase. Stay tuned.

As always, if you have any comments, reasonable criticisms, or suggestions, please feel free to contact me at [email protected]

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