The official kickoff to the budget season began Tuesday night with no public comment. There was no plea for fiscal restraint, chastisement for allowing administrators to overspend and no snorts of disbelief as the numbers were put up.
It was an unusual scene in Farmington. Something that would not have happened while Sam Iritano was alive.
Iritano, a resident of Farmington for 52 years, was the self-appointed watchdog of the Farmington taxpayer, as zealous as any public servant and a former public servant himself. He was small, white-haired, with an instant friendly smile and a sharp tongue. He was at nearly every town meeting when taxpayer money was at stake and he was faithful to speak out against whatever injustices he perceived. He could be seen planting signs around town that said “Vote No” and “Had enough?” and would wave to drivers as they passed by.
He was a World War II veteran, ran his own company, Woodland Insurance, for many years and was past chairman of the Board of Education in Farmington. When he left the Board of Education, he co-founded the Farmington Tax Payers Association, for which he served as president for many years. After a fire at his home by East Farms, Iritano became a devoted supporter of the Farmington Fire Department, funding the Firefighter of the Year award.
Iritano passed away in December of 2012 at 84 years old after a long illness. He had been missed during the previous budget cycle, too, and even the local officials, for whom he was undeniably a thorn in the side, eulogized Iritano, acknowledging his place in the system of democracy.
“His visage often inspired fear and consternation in public officials,” Town Council Chairman Jeff Hogan said at a recent council meeting. “We would hear from Sam at every meeting on multiple topics and once he was done we were very clear where he stood.”
But despite the often apparent discomfort Iritano’s monologues often brought to those elected officials squirming in their seats, Hogan said his contribution was necessary, patriotic and missed.
“Government needs watchdogs and benefits from being challenged… Sam had moxie and passion and that’s an important part of what makes for rich and diverse communities,” Hogan said.
As head of the Farmington Tax Payers Association, Iritano led the charge in opposing the proposed budget increase in Farmington each year and many thanked him for it.
“Sam, at age 80, had more enthusiasm and energy than people 50 years younger than him. He played the major role every year in keeping our Farmington tax increases smaller than they would otherwise have been,” wrote Larry Marion on Iritano’s condolences page on the Ahern website.
To many, his passion was an inspiration.
“Sam was aware of areas of loaded spending in the local budget and waste of taxpayer money and he was a fearless warrior in this regard. All attempts to humiliate him or silence him didn’t work,” said Florence Stahl, president of the Avon Taxpayers Association. “He was passionate about what he did.”
Harry Kraiza, who took over the Farmington Tax Payers Association, spoke of his respect for Iritano and his dedication.
“It was his passion that people should become involved but he knew they wouldn’t,” Kraiza said. “So he would try to help them by getting involved and being as passionate as he was - showing it by being at all the council meetings, Board of Education meetings and annual town meetings or standing out there at the corner of High Street and Route 4 or Route 4 and I-84 telling people to vote no.
“Ninety-nine percent of all of us would not do that. He did it. And that, to me, is a very special man. I don’t care if you agree or disagree with his opinion but it was the fact of the way he did it."