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Town Council Approves a Budget Proposal with a 3.79% Tax Hike

The spending plan for fiscal year 2012-13 moves onto the Board of Finance.

Town Council members' revisions to the municipal side of the 2012-13 budget proposal amounted to $479,183 in cuts. The total $79 million proposal, including Board of Education spending and debt service, will now move on to the Board of Finance.

The council passed the proposal by a vote of 5-3 at a workshop Tuesday night. Chairwoman Enid Lipeles, Vice Chairwoman Debra Heim, Tony Unger, Dee Dee Martin and Ray Knapp voted yes and J.P. Sredzinski, Frank Lieto and Debra Dutches voted no.

The Board of Finance is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the proposed spending plan at town hall tonight at 7.

Prior to the Town Council's vote, First Selectman Steve Vavrek read a statement criticizing cuts that were made.

"This past year was a year with many storms and some say disasters," he said. "This past year showed every weakness this town has. At that time when buildings leaked, trees needed to be cut, technology in our building was failing, machinery was going out of service and staff in most every department pitching in — many of them volunteering their time to do what was needed to keep the town running — my office was flooded with calls and emails to build a budget to make sure the essentials were covered in both this budget and from now on."

Vavrek expressed his opinion that the cuts will harm the town for years to come and he told council members that not only did the town not move forward, but that, "You have told our town employees they do not matter."

Several of the cuts the council made were on funds proposed for employee raises and increased hours.

Vavrek told the council, "... You have made your choices and it is you who will have to live with the consequences when more things break, buildings go un-maintained and our loyal employee base leaves for better opportunities."

During budget deliberations, several council members said they had tried to limit the tax increase as much as possible. The proposal approved Tuesday night includes almost $2.5 million more in taxes, a 3.79 percent increase.

In response to Vavrek's statement, Unger said, "He is right about the expenses that should go in, but they can't all go in at once. Having a long-term plan would have helped us. We made the best decisions we can for the priorities of the town this year."

Martin, a Democrat, is tired of hearing Republicans talk about the town's infrastructure having been neglected over the years.

"I sat here for 18 years — all with Democrats as first selectman," she said. "Year, after year, after year the Republican majority on this council cut the budgets. Now it seems to be the walking party line that things haven't been done in the past. It's because they voted against it."

Knapp, a fellow Democrat, added, "Work on the roads was proposed by Tom Buzi, but it was turned down by the Republican majority."

Final Thoughts

Town Council members expressed their thoughts on the budget proposal before passing it.

Sredzinski said the first selectman made a "noble attempt" to address building maintenance and the town's many infrastructure needs in the budget, but he added, "the tax increase is still too high."

"The problem is, we can't do it all in one or two budget cycles," Sredzinski said. "It will take years to catch up."

He noted that the municipal budget, which is the only one the Town Council can deliberate on, carried a proposed 4.43 percent tax increase when Vavrek presented it.

Sredzinski said asking residential and commercial taxpayers to pay $3 million more in taxes is "not sustainable" and "not responsible."

Any further cuts to the budget would mean cuts in services, according to Sredzinski. Nevertheless, he said he would vote against the proposal in hopes it could be pared down more. To Sredzinski, moving it on to the Board of Finance without cutting it more would be "passing the buck."

Lipeles said, "We're being as fiscally conservative as we can be."

She added that voting to close Chalk Hill, "to me, is reprehensible," and asked the first selectman to come up with a plan to keep it open.

One thing Unger said the town must do, is to replace Monroe Town Hall's leaky roof and HVAC system when the police station renovation and addition is underway — town hall and police share the same building.

Debt service, pensions and insurance are among the costs in the budget the council cannot control, Unger said, noting that any further cuts would hurt town services.

"We can't cut this budget," he said. "As conservative as I am, I will support this budget."

Martin said, "With all due respect to the office of the first selectman, the fact is there is no leadership on this budget."

She accused Vavrek of wavering on information about Chalk Hill and "walking out of an essential budget meeting the other night." On Thursday, Vavrek had left the meeting to attend the end of a business forum at the library.

However, Martin said she would support the budget.

Heim talked about the difficult economic times, but also said she would support the budget.

Dutches was among the council members who were concerned over the size of the tax increase. "I understand the level of cuts we made, but I would oppose it to see if we can take it down more."

Lieto said, "I'm not happy with how this budget process has gone. This town council worked hard and went over the budget with a fine tooth comb to make cuts." But he criticized the format of the budget, saying time was wasted getting it into an understandable format.

Vavrek said the budget had the same format as ones going back at least 15 years.

Lieto said mothballing Chalk Hill was the responsible thing to do because of the revenue shortfall and a lack of a long or short term plan.

"I would like another opportunity to review this budget to see if more can be cut to bring a more responsible number to the taxpayers," Lieto said, explaining why he would vote against it.

Christine E. February 29, 2012 at 07:51 PM
...says the guy who comes on Patch to not discuss issues, but slam peoples personalities/characters. Interesting.
Christine E. February 29, 2012 at 07:53 PM
Everyone who has personal and emotional involvement in the life of a teacher is going to have a severely biased opinion. You should also consider reading up on recent events in Wilton, particularly at the Elementary School level, to see just how good their working environment really is. Take a look at some recent patch article involving the PTA. Holy cow, you'll be glad you are where you are.
QWERTY February 29, 2012 at 08:14 PM
Good old Joey, an answer to a question no one asked. I didn't realize that those who complain about taxes are uneducated.
monroe taxpayer February 29, 2012 at 09:17 PM
It appears you cannot justify the reality of increasing property taxes while home values fall, so you try use personal attacks as a distraction rather then address the issue. Good try but ineffective and unproductive. Has anything in town government improved at the same rate at which taxes have increased?? The answer is clearly No, it has just added more burden to the families who live here and reduced the quality of life. My concern is not for myself but is for the future of this town and those who wish to stay.
Lisa B. February 29, 2012 at 10:02 PM
Sorry Walt (Part One) – not sure what contract years you got access too – but you might want to check your records….because while you might have some numbers that are historical for Stamford - they aren't accurate now. Since your post implies that you are using the salary data from Stamford – I figured it might be more fair to share this list - published in Feb 2011. This shows that ALL of the Stamford principals made more in 2011 than ours do now. Only Mr. Battista in our district made more than their Elementary School principals - and that was when he served double duty as Asst. Superintendent AND HS Principal. Neither of which are jobs for the faint of heart. And while he was “only” the principal at Masuk - he made far less than the Stamford HS principals. The 2011 numbers are right here... http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Stamford-police-dominate-list-of-highest-paid-992359.php?appSession=65130548175503&RecordID=&PageID=2&PrevPageID=1&cpipage=2&CPISortType=&CPIorderBy= And I'm guessing that they (Stamford educators) are paid even more this year - since all cities and towns in CT are subject to bargaining agreements that have negotiated and binding salary increases year over year. I recognize many in Monroe feel that administrators - who run a HR and service organization that rivals many mid-size CT companies - deserve to have an increase of 0% year over year.
Lisa B. February 29, 2012 at 10:07 PM
Sorry Walt – (Part Two) But I sure as heck don’t understand why. Spend a day trying to do what they do – scheduling a staff of 50+, managing a budget when the facility has more needs than you have resources, managing personnel assessment and development (knowing you are likely going to have to let top performers go at the end of many years), facilitating reporting at the district/state/national level, handling staffing issues that unexpectedly arise when they are related to personal/medical/jury duty (because you can’t just tell the kindergarteners it can wait until tomorrow, and then try to have an unexpected but necessary conversation with an 8 or 10 year old – or their parents - with a smile on your face. Judging by your tone on this blog – and many others who share your position – I’d give you all less than an hour. And no – I am not a teacher, a principal, or a member of a collective bargaining agreement. I am not independently wealthy or highly compensated. We both work to keep things paid and yes – any tax increase hurts around here and means we have to give something up. But it isn’t going to be the health, safety, education or general well-being of my kids. And it isn’t going to be at the expense of the people who show up every day to see that all the kids in this district get that.
Ride the lightning February 29, 2012 at 10:14 PM
Well said Lisa B. It speaks volumes how people like "Walt Longmire" feel the only way they can make a point is by telling lies and spreading misinformation.
Lisa B. February 29, 2012 at 11:28 PM
Walt - you didn't single out the teachers' salaries above....you targeted administrators, principals, curriculum coordinators and team leads. I am sure - if we stacked up the teacher pay scales across the state - just like for administrators - they'd be similar in structure and salary- and not prove that Monroe is grossly overpaid relative to their neighbors. Here’s Fairfield (http://www.fairfieldcitizenonline.com/news/article/Top-50-wages-paid-to-Fairfield-school-employees-1024856.php), Newtown (http://newtown.patch.com/articles/educators-top-list-of-gross-salaries#pdf-1365630), and Norwalk (http://www.scribd.com/fullscreen/48506576) administrator data. None look that different to me. And as for your comment that Stamford students would "eat a Monroe teacher alive" - I am quite certain that the talented and committed teachers in Monroe would find all of the supplemental resources afforded to Stamford teachers to support students in the classroom more than generous and ensure they were more than able to deliver a quality education. Since you have access to so much Stamford data - why don't you also publish all of the other contracts - for the paraprofessionals and support staff - as well as the staffing document that outlines exactly how many additional educational resources are afforded to every mixed ability classroom in Stamford. Those administrators ALL have the benefit of Assistant Principals in their schools - sometimes more than one.
Lisa B. February 29, 2012 at 11:30 PM
(Part 2) Those teachers have support for struggling (but perhaps not on an IEP) students in math, languages, speech. They have resources to challenge students above grade level or truly gifted. They have more than part-time, counseling resources for students that may need an extra ear sometimes. Telling half the story doesn't facilitate a productive discussion about what needs fixing in CT - the funding model for schools. Why not focus time on trying to understand why Dan Malloy is sending extra millions to Stamford, Bridgeport, etc – districts who are already doing less than Monroe – with more. And a lot of those extra millions are coming right out of your pocket. Kids are kids Walt – whether they are from Waterbury or Wilton. And anyone – teacher, administrator, paraprofessional, secretary or custodian, who signs up to work in a school district knows that they all deserve to have a safe, positive and challenging environment. If I still lived in Stamford, I’d be more than insulted that someone who intimates he works in my district or is closely affiliated with the ins and outs of that school system, promotes the thinking that the kids who live there are somehow more challenging to teach than someone who lives 5 miles away in New Canaan, Darien or 25 miles away in Monroe. It implies not that your teachers in that district are better – but that those kids are worse. And that’s just not the voice of someone who supports making life better for kids.
Alex February 29, 2012 at 11:43 PM
Education will always be more of the budget and should be. We employ a lot of people through schools. I look at the increases more than the overall amount.Town side got a bigger increase this year last time I checked albeit that may be from projects, it still counts against us.
Christine E. March 01, 2012 at 12:06 AM
Why are we comparing Apples to Oranges? A city to a small town?
michael massao March 01, 2012 at 12:20 AM
Hmmm...new year, same debate. Taxes too high- schools are inefficient and indulgent, town is mismanaged. Tax increase needed- schools are losing ground and town desparately needs infrastructure. Of course, there is no right answer, but this most entertaining process lands us in the middle somewhere, which is probably about right. But consider this as guiding principle. The single most important temporal thing on this planet is education. The future of our kids, our town, our country and the world depend upon it. So it should be made as efficient as possible, scrutinized, and every dollar questioned, but should never be sacrificed simply because it is burdensome, as we are lost as a civilization without it. Truly lost. Another point to consider is who really gets hurt when the school budget is slashed to the point that programs are cut and class sizes increase. It is not the well-off kids. Their parents can afford the tutors or the private music lesson or the required sports uniforms. The people most hurt are those who are struggling. It is their kids that need that school to be high-functioning, to provide the programs and skill training that they cannot get elsewhere. It is, ironically, those people who the tax cut was meant to help in the first place that are hurt the most. I know this well, as I grew up in a family of 5 siblings that struggled to get by. Thank God for those schools because education was, and is, the only way out.
Sheila D March 01, 2012 at 12:25 AM
I wish there was a 'Like' button on Patch like Facebook!
Fran Welch March 01, 2012 at 01:16 AM
Lisa B, you forgot to mention that administrators have three, sometimes four degrees. I'm not sure how many CEOs can actually say that about themselves.
monroe taxpayer March 01, 2012 at 01:46 AM
Interesting opinion based on your own life experiences. Of course everyone's experience is different. That is what make us individuals. Forgive me here but it seems you have implied that school budget were slashed? I seem to have missed it? To my knowledge education budget have always increased? Even with decreasing enrollment? The increases may have been reduced but that is far from a slash? I have also missed those tax cuts that seem to hurt those they were meant to help? My tax bills have done nothing but increased for years? To have fair and honest discussion, shouldn't we try to somewhat accurate? Anything less just shows a bias opinion? Every life is important, I think you would agree. And the truth is we all want improvement in the quality of everyone life. But to expect Monroe with its limited tax base and resources to compete with entire countries is simply unrealistic and unfair. We all truly wish we lived in a utopia were we all had unlimited resources, the reality is we simply do not. The only right answer is to do the best we can with the resources that are available.
PAUL March 01, 2012 at 02:03 AM
lets all move to shelton. garbage collection, sewers, city water, beautiful areas like white hills and huntington, AND NO TAX INCREASES FOR THE PAST 11 YEARS!!! what do they do that our leaders can't seem to get?
Jethro March 01, 2012 at 02:32 AM
Sure, the taxes in Shelton are low compared to the rest of Fairfield County, but that isn't enough. Overdevelopment is quickly becoming an issues. What was once protected wetlands is quickly becoming strip malls and town houses.
Joey March 01, 2012 at 03:08 AM
Walt Longmire - if you like Shelton so much why don't you move there? Your views on families and schools is pathological. Admit it - you need to be miserable about something. Kind of weird that you pretended to be some type of school employee. Whats up with that Walt? I think you should post the teacher contract on this site. That would be hilarious. I could just see you sitting at your computer seething as you type it. MY TAXES!!
Kelley HC March 01, 2012 at 04:22 AM
I have to remark on your post. I moved to here less than years ago and do NOT live in a macMansion. My home is 90 years old and is 1344 sq. ft. My taxes have increased over 68%. I have no streetlights and septic. I can afford this home, but do not seem to get value for my taxes currently. If not for the good schools, I wouldn't buy in Monroe. If I didn't have a young child, I would have never moved here.
Kelley HC March 01, 2012 at 04:26 AM
We do need a broader corporate tax base. My employer is in Monroe and we have over 100 employees. Most of our people commute in, as they can't afford to live here. I have no problems paying taxes, as long as the benefits are there. We need more businesses here to spread the tax burden, not more subdivisions that eat up our resources.
captrips March 01, 2012 at 03:21 PM
Wow...talk about overhead! If the school system were run like the private sector, the legions of management would have been flattened considerably by this time. What I'd really like to see is a comparison of staffing, broken out by actual teachers and administration versus enrollment for the past 15 years or so with budget increases also included.
Christine E. March 01, 2012 at 03:53 PM
Stay classy, Joey!
Laura March 01, 2012 at 04:01 PM
WHEW...
Joey March 01, 2012 at 05:01 PM
@Christene E - you make racist remarks on Patch then call out others for having no class? Really?
Christine E. March 01, 2012 at 05:26 PM
Hey Joey, First, my name is Christine, not Christene...so at least put a little effort into the accuracy of your attacks. Additionally, the comments of which you are referring to have nothing to do with this article, and were comments that were taken grossly out of context in the first place, which is your problem, not mine. You are, as usual, doing nothing to positively contribute to this forum, but only negatively picking at each individual person instead of picking at their position on an issue. You say that you envision people 'seething' as they type, but the most irrational and emotional comments seem to be coming from you. How about you stick to the issues and leave people's character alone.
esther prynne March 01, 2012 at 05:33 PM
I don't now either party but from comments I have read on these posts it seems that Joey only attacks people that seem to offer comments he personally doesn't like. It's sort of embarrassing.
John F. March 01, 2012 at 05:56 PM
You hit the nail on the head Esther.
QWERTY March 01, 2012 at 05:57 PM
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troll_(Internet)
monroe taxpayer March 01, 2012 at 06:03 PM
Joey simply can not justify his position, so in an attempt to save face makes lame classless personal attacks. Its neither intelligent or civil. but does show his desperation. to support his silly position of higher taxes on property that has decreased in value.
Geezer March 02, 2012 at 05:59 PM
From now on, if I don't like someone's conduct on the forum, I simply won't read any more of their posts. If we all did that, maybe they would get tired of talking to themselves.

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