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.