Residents Share Opinions Despite Low Turnout at Town Meeting

Fewer than the 300 residents required to reach a quorum attended Monday night's meeting.

With only 250 residents estimated to be in attendance, the Farmington Annual Town Meeting was unable to make any changes to the proposed 2012-13 budget, which will now pass to referendum May 3 unchanged. But those who had gathered, used the opportunity to hear presentations, ask questions and voice their opinion — on the budget and other subjects.

Between 190 and 200 voters were checked in and settled into the Farmington High School auditorium as moderator Christian Hoheb began the meeting. About 40 residents were lined up outside, waiting to verify their eligibility with polls workers. The Farmington Town Charter requires 300 voters participate for a binding vote to occur.

To encourage participation in the town meeting, Farmington Future, a group advocating for passage of the budget, offered childcare in a nearby classroom, supervised by Farmington High School students. When the meeting started, a dozen children were there.

Town Council Chairman Jeff Hogan, Town Manager Kathy Eagen, Superintendent of Schools Kathleen Greider and Board of Education Chairman Mary Grace Reed all made presentations regarding the proposed budget, reviewing information previously shared at the second public hearing.

Hogan and Reed’s speeches were a mix of warning and of encouragement.

Hogan explained that the town’s capital projects had been underfunded for years and that unanticipated equipment failures routinely necessitated freezing the town’s operating budget midyear.

He went on to say the town has experienced an increased demand in fire and police calls, open space that must be tended, a growing population and a daily influx of commuters which have increased demand on town services. Still, he said, the mill rate has remained relatively low.

Reed warned that not less funding would threaten the education that has been established in Farmington over decades.

“We are concerned that program cuts are setting students up for the loss of exploration they once had. We must start recovery after the district lost 27 teachers over the last five years,” she said.

She noted the district wasn’t looking to replace them all, but rather to fill the equivalent of 9.9 positions for immediate needs.

Farmington Taxpayer Association Harry Kraiza said he was prepared to make a motion to reduce the budget, but for the lack of quorum. Instead, he asked voters to consider that costs have increased in the town budget every year, while school enrollment has decreased.

One resident questioned how the town was compensating for the deficit the West Woods Golf Course has continued to run the past few years. The Town Manager explained that the loss is made up through the Farmington Recreation fund.

Questions surrounding the funding of Project Open Choice were raised by a few residents and answered by others, as well as by school officials. Former State Rep. Edgar King asked officials to identify the value and the costs of the state program, which brings Hartford children into suburban school districts in hopes of reducing racial isolation and educational disparity.

Speakers featured in the video include Farmington Taxpayer Association President and former Town Council member Harry Kraiza, Stephen Kay, Farmington Future Co-President Liz Fitzsimmons and Rebecca Tuttle. Not all those who spoke were recorded.

Correction: The layoffs in the Farmington schools which Board of Education Chairman Mary Grace Reed referred to began five years ago, beginning in 2008, not eight years ago as originally indicated.

Ann C. Jett April 24, 2012 at 12:22 PM
It's time to protect the quality of education and standard of living in our town. VOTE YES ON MAY 3.
Lorren Pogson April 24, 2012 at 01:05 PM
Try living in Bristol or Bridgeport and then complain- Farmington is far better off than most places as is. People here have no idea how good and easy life is here compared to most other places. Hearing people cry about education failing and the town falling apart is pretty sad in comparison to how many other places in this state- even a few towns over, have to live. Think outside of the box for once. Open space can be managed via volunteers. Utilize this opportunity as a science project for the kids. It’s our town, it’s up to us, not just the employees of the town, to take care of it, clean up after ourselves or protect our natural resources.
jeff cohan April 24, 2012 at 01:33 PM
am I correct in understanding that the "recreation fee" which every baseball, soccer, lacrosse, football youth player pays as a "field use" fee is directed into a fund to cover operating losses at West Woods Golf Course? After years of controversial leadership operationally at the town owned course I had thought that the town had turned the facility into a profit generating or at least breakeven operation. I am sure I don't have all the facts but this would be very alarming for me as a resident if these fees were being used for such purposes.
Johnny Carrier April 25, 2012 at 11:20 PM
I found interesting that town management gives a detailed presentation with line items as low as 20K, leaving it all out there for the taxpayers to deicide, making their case. As for the Board of Ed, I heard generalizations, feel good arguments, etc. News Flash, the taxpayers in Farmington are invested in good schools, it has been a cornerstone of our town, but we are also invested in good services, fair prices, or should I say low taxes. I would like a line item detail of the board or Ed budget!!! Every last detail. The tax payers of this town are educated and qualified to make a conscience decisions on what we should spend OUR money on. One subject that came up was the Project Choice program. I can say I fall in favor, but am skeptical of the explanations given. I heard waffling on the subject, no real simple numbers. At one point, it paid for supplies, the added pupils did not cost anything, “electricity does not cost more because there is an added student”, the next was reimbursement was 1/3 the cost. All we want is straight, simple facts; let the voters decide, I guarantee that you will be surprised how intelligent the electorate can be.
Ann C. Jett April 27, 2012 at 02:01 PM
I was very reluctant to respond to yet another comment on why Farmington participates in Project Choice, formerly Project Concern. I would invite those who "don't understand why we participate in Project Choice" to look up a little thing called "Sheff vs. O'Neill" and perhaps go back a little further in history regarding the issue of desegregation. I don't mean to cast disparaging insinuations but it makes me wonder, personally, what the actual issue is with town residents who continue to attempt to villify Project Choice and why Farmington has Project Choice students.
Johnny Carrier April 28, 2012 at 11:09 AM
Ann, if you read my comments, I believe I stated “I fall in favor”. No vilification over here. And if we cannot discuss this this is not democracy, and people get offended far to easily. My references are to laying out the facts, letting people make an educated decision. This is not supposed to be emotional, its cost-benefit. Here in Farmington, we have tremendous cost-benefit for our education, but this does not mean that we should look at the budget blindly, after all it is 2/3 our annual budget. Line item budgets are what people do on a daily basis, transportation budgets, grocery budget, family budgets…….. Then one analyzes and does what in the best interest of the interested party. To boil it down, as I sat at the town meeting, I was surprised at the arguments/explanations, and how vague they were, not the validity of the program.
Saul Freedman April 29, 2012 at 08:16 PM
It's extremely unfortunate Ann that you need to suggest racist tendencies in anyone who questions Project Concern/Choice.
Ann C. Jett May 01, 2012 at 06:05 PM
Mr. Carrier, I am late in responding but my comment was in no way directed toward your post. Every budget season we have residents who once again bring up the debate of Project Choice and why Farmington is participating? Saul - I don't think my post had one racist suggestion or intimation. Those reading the post who might have taken it as obfuscating....well, therein lies the rub.
Lorren Pogson May 01, 2012 at 07:46 PM
According to Wikipedia Farmington lacks diversity in a big way: 92.91% White, 1.55% African American, 0.12% Native American, 3.72% Asian, 0.59% from other races, and 1.11% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.19% of the population. Statistics are based on the 2000 census. I have known many people who came through Project Concern and succeeded in their educational and social endeavors while enhancing comprehension that other ways of life lay outside the boundaries of Farmington. However, they did receive better education- more honest and informative education in regards to cultural diversity and history from the Hartford school system. Education is about more than science, text books, computers….real education lies within comprehending social construct and cultural inequities, strengths and diversity of human nature. Cancelling a program like Project Concern (or limiting it) will only further diminish the already lacking diversity in this town. It will enhance the achievement gap between low income and higher income families (regardless of race/religion etc.) within this state (CT has one of the largest achievement gaps in the nation) and propagate a narrow minded society.
Lorren Pogson May 01, 2012 at 07:46 PM
Another note from Wikipedia not everyone in town has loads of money (stats as of 2007): The per capita income for the town was $39,102. About 2.8% of families and 4.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 2.9% of those under age 18 and 7.5% of those age 65 or over. Regarding a line item budget: If the Army can come up with a LIN for a shoelace then by God the schools can figure out and publish exact costs.
sarah torbick May 01, 2012 at 08:50 PM
1. Wikipedia is information edited by folks that may or may not have accurate information, and this is not always confirmed by Wikipedia; 2) this information is OLD: 2005, 2007, 2010. If stats are portrayed, at least get them to be as of 2012.
Saul Freedman May 01, 2012 at 10:07 PM
Bring up Sheff v O'Neill, mention desegregation, deny any insinuation of racism. Makes sense.
Lorren Pogson May 02, 2012 at 01:42 AM
I understand Sarah- I felt confident in posting this data because I have researched the demographics prior and this was close to what I recalled reading. My point is that the proportions really have not changed and the diversity lacks even if we tweaked the numbers in favor of such. The 2010 CERC (CT Economic Resources Center) states the following demographics: Whites: 22,629 Black: 667 Asian Pacific: 1357 Native American: 24 Other: 585 Hispanic: 813 This doesn't scream diversity but I do appreciate you quest for accurate data.
Stephen Kay May 02, 2012 at 02:45 AM
One should also understand that the State pays for transportation for students enrolled in Project Choice. And Farmington receives grant money for each student. So one could argue there are both social and economic benefits for our town.
Johnny Carrier May 02, 2012 at 10:48 AM
This exemplifies my original point, you are correct in saying that Farmington receives grant money. I believe that this budget year forward, we receive 8K per kindergarten student, and 4K per 1 grade through 12th grade. Prior years including last year, every student came with a 2k grant. A student in Farmington cost around 13K, there are 95-100 project choice kids, and if I do the math quickly, (in my head) ….. I don’t need to go into the numbers. It is for this reason why the Board if Ed should publish line item expenditures. Those numbers I have are from conversations, with various people that have more knowledge about this than I. I don’t want anyone to misunderstand; this is NOT and attack on Project Choice, this is what happens when we are misinformed (due to the lack of facts). Let this program and others, stand on their merits, all I ask for is facts, transparency and truth, I know this is tough to swallow.


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