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Town Council Approves Budget With 2.95% Tax Increase

Cuts more than $430,000 from Board of Education request, but ups capital expenditures.

The Town Council approved a $90.3 million budget Saturday morning on a 5-2 vote. The decision, with Democrats John Vibert and Mike Demicco opposing, came after four hours of discussion. The budget represents a 3.1 spending percent increase over the current year.

Both parties entered the discussion looking to reduce the 4 percent increase in the Town Manager’s recommended budget, swollen from a 3.55 percent increase requested by the Board of Education and an almost-doubled allocation for long-neglected capital improvement projects.

The motion, made by Republican Patty Stoddard, brought the Board of Education’s figure down by $431,356, from a 3.55 percent increase to 2.75. Conversely, it brought the Town’s operating budget up from a 2.04 increase over the current year to 2.28 percent. That change came after a discussion of several items in the Town budget that Town Manager Kathleen Eagen said she had underfunded, including funding for a townwide survey, economic development money focusing around Batterson Park, money for Dial-A-Ride and for professional services for the Fire Department.

If approved at referendum May 3, the council’s budget would increase the mill rate from 21.27 to 21.9, an increase of 2.95 percent. The impact for an average homeowner (as defined as someone owning a house valued at $258,899) would increase by $162.34.

Discussion centered around the schools’ need for a rebuilding year after four years of cuts depleted programs and forced teacher layoffs — and whether taxpayers can afford to pay for one. Council members agreed that capital projects on both the school and Town side of the budget have been neglected and are dire need of funding.

“I would love to put the entire Board of Education budget in this budget but I just don’t think with what the town is expecting it’s doable,” Stoddard said. “Still, I hope the board can do some rebuilding with this.”

Vibert, who made two of his own motions to fund the original education and Town budget requests, said that though the board had secured a zero increase in teacher salaries through contract negotiations, the board has little discretion in its budget due to pensions, benefits and state mandates for special education. Technology funding, which has been deferred year after year, is no longer discretionary, either, Vibert said, since the state has mandated standardized tests be given on computers starting in 2014. A new policy between the Board of Education and Town Council requires the self-insurance fund be fully funded, too.

“You’re not buying into a rebuilding year; you’re not even funding the Board of Ed enough to fund mandatory things,” Vibert said. “I clearly think those dollars we’re putting in for that very, very modest rebuilding start are funds we need to have in there… I don’t see where good things happen in a $500,000 reduction in the Board of Education budget.”

Mike Demicco put it bluntly.

“We go through this discussion every year… I fully appreciate it’s up to the Board of Ed to decide how to spend the money and decide which funds they have to cut money out of but it’s up to us to give them a dollar figure,” Demicco said. “It’s like telling someone ‘which meal do you not want to have: breakfast, lunch or dinner because we don’t have enough to give you all of them. That’s what we tell them every single year.”

Council chairman Jeff Hogan was looking for a balance between meeting needs this year and preparing for the coming revaluation, which could increase residents’ taxes by 10 percent.

“We’re still really in difficult times. I’m not convinced the average taxpayer is able to pay a lot more,” he said, adding that he believes there is some opportunity for the schools to rebuild. “Implications from revaluation in town are substantial and a little scary… I believe this is a responsible budget.”

Beth Kintner March 18, 2012 at 05:29 PM
The Math Specialists’ roles and responsibilities were explained during BOE meetings, and again as a part of the Superintendent's presentation on Wednesday at the Town Council budget workshop meeting. The Math Specialists, in addition to coordinating the implementation of the new math curriculum and teaching methods for math, will also be providing direct interventions with students not performing up to standard in math. As is now the case in the area of reading, the schools will be required to provide interventions to students not performing up to standard in math. Research shows that early intervention such as that provided in Reading Recovery is effective in turning around performance and preventing long term learning problems for students, which by the way saves money. The math intervention component is modeled after the successful Reading Recovery program.
Matt Pogson March 18, 2012 at 06:23 PM
These specialists are a lot like an efficiency expert that a real company would privately contract to get its business back on track. They are there to clean up, re-focus and unify the material being taught throughout the district to ensure student success. This ensures that we have seamless transitions from elementary, to middle school, to high school. Like an efficiency expert hired by a company, these SHOULD be a temporary privately contracted jobs. Once the company, or in this case the school district, is back on track the specialist should move on. Will they?…. probably not. Could we unify a district without them? Most likely, but it would be pretty difficult. Especially since most elementary teachers are the Math, Science, and English teachers all in one, so they’d have a hard time being in three meetings at the same time. But if they do their jobs right then they should save us money in the long run, but only if they are dismissed when their job is done.
Beth Kintner March 18, 2012 at 07:27 PM
While the curriculum development and training components of their job may be short term, providing remediation to students struggling in math will continue to be a need. These staff would not need to be "privately contracted" in order for their positions to be reduced or eliminated if/when the time came.
david kellenbach March 18, 2012 at 08:13 PM
Whatever happened to the concept of "after school help?" This is ridiculous. Parents also know when their children are lacking, or need more help in math, science, or english. Thus the extra help. I agree with you, Matt. They need to be dismissed when the teachers teach our teachers the new curriculum. No reason to stay beyond that time.
Paul March 18, 2012 at 10:33 PM
All I know is that every year the school budget goes up and along with that my takes. The school board and the council are very well aware that with the way the Town system is set up, that all they have to do is ask for 1% more than they want and they will get exactly what they want even if the request is shot down in the first referendum. It is a rigged system. I am 61 yrs. old, I have no children and have my own septic system, I pay for garbage removal and use almost no Town services except for the Police (I live on a State road, so the State plows and even did tree clean up after the Oct. storm) yet every year my taxes increase to support other people's services, most of whom are more well off than I am. How about a novel approach, if you have more than one child in the school system, pay for your own kids. YOU chose to have children, why should I pay for them?
April Rogers March 18, 2012 at 10:43 PM
Kudos to Paul and David!!!!!! i couldnt agree more!
Ann C. Jett March 18, 2012 at 10:56 PM
Clearly there is a lack of understanding regarding the changing curriculum standards and implementation of these standards and preparation of teachers. In addition, we are fortunate enough to have support staff in place to help ALL students meet the expected grade level performance requirements. Special education programs which are a necessity for many of our children are also state mandated. Again, the lack of understand extends that the support services children receive are during school time. Class size is also a factor which many people are overlooking. While the respective specialists are not intended to be long-term, they will be working with those students deemed to be in need of greater assistance allowing teachers to work with students who are near or on grade level expectation. With regard to the comment about the number of children a family may have, we are working families paying taxes to live in Farmington, a town we regard as having an exceptional school sytem which many residents would to see maintained. Instead of being concerned about paying for OTHER people's children, you may want to consider moving to a town with lower tax rates that offers you more services that would enhance the quality of your life.
Matt Pogson March 18, 2012 at 11:40 PM
Or Ms. Jett. People like yourself may want to move somewhere where the majority of people want to pay to maintain the services You want. You seem to overlook that it is a double edged sword and maybe your values are not shared by the rest of the town. I guess we will see on May 3rd.
Paul March 18, 2012 at 11:49 PM
@ Ann: I should move? What arrogance! Besides, if I did who would make up for my taxes and pay for your children. Be careful what you wish for. But maybe we can work out a deal. Send me a check for the septic tank I put in and I'll continue to pay for your kids without complaining. Sound fair?
Stephen Kay March 18, 2012 at 11:50 PM
Paul, If you are thinking of your own best interest and not that of the children, please understand that one of the single greatest factors affecting your property value is education. Farmington has offered less and less each of the last five years. It is amazing what our teachers and staff do with so little. They deserve so much credit. What our schools offer is inferior to all our surrounding municipalities with the exception of New Britain. When other school systems are adding programs like full day kindergarten or maintaining programs like those for gifted and talented students, we continue to cut. I personally know two families who are looking for a new home and have taken Farmington off their list due to their fears of the school system.
Matt Pogson March 18, 2012 at 11:59 PM
Enough about property values! Everyone says “well watch what you say or do it could effect your property value.” Unless you are planning to sell your house or want to pay more taxes then higher property value is irrelevant. I was born in this town and I plan to die in this town so I don’t care what my property value is because I’m not selling it! Many people in town were born and raised here and also don’t care because they too plan to live here until they die. It’s the people who are moving here to reap the benefits of our town that care, and that’s not fair to the families that have worked to establish this town and the low mill rate that everyone loves so much. Those moochers shouldn’t be the ones deciding on what should be spent on our taxes because most of them plan to retire somewhere cheaper (FL) anyway once their children are done in our school system.
Paul March 19, 2012 at 12:03 AM
Sir, I haven't had a raise in two years, yet every year the school budget goes up (and taxes to pay for it) even as enrollment has gone down. I suggest that one class they should add is economics: how to live within you means. I know I have to. I can't go to my boss and tell him to give me more money that he doesn't have. The value of my house has gone down 20% in the last couple of years. One of the problems is that the Town is growing too quickly and services are increasing to support the out of control growth. No offense to your friends, but if they can do better, let them go. Traffic is bad enough around here.
Matt Pogson March 19, 2012 at 12:03 AM
Yes, clearly I have a lack of understanding. Being a teacher who works with these people daily and works with the new curriculum standards and has re-written all my curriculum in "UBD format." Following the state core competencies standards. Clearly I have a lack of understanding since you Ms. Jett must be an expert in the area. You must be the one with bachelors in Technology Education and the master’s degree in Special Education and right?
david kellenbach March 19, 2012 at 12:28 AM
Re: Connecticut Magazine http://www.connecticutmag.com/Connecticut-Magazine/November-2011/Rating-the-Towns-2011-25000-50000..."; Farmington nudged out Glastonbury to take the No. 2 spot, largely on the basis of excellent schools, a healthy local economy and lots of things to see and do." So, Farmington regarded as one of the highest - not too shabby considering folks say we have to "rebuild" this year. Quit the spin, stop the rhetoric, and let's cut the fat. Farmington is FINE and our kids are thriving on our EXISTING BUDGETS. In spite of past cuts to programs, Farmington is still in the top ten! Also, with the uncertainty of the upcoming presidential election and the economy stalled, wage freezes, cutbacks on medical - let's hold the line in any more spending.
Bella Medvedovski March 19, 2012 at 12:35 AM
Mr. Pogson, I am offended by your comment. I came to the US from another country, and Farmington was the first town we lived in. I never realized until now how "hospitable" some of the people in this town are. I will support education regardless of whether my kids are in the school system. It's a belief I was brought up with, and not a benefit I am planning to rip off.
Matt Pogson March 19, 2012 at 12:54 AM
Ms. Medvedovski, I am honestly sorry that I offended you and anyone else that may have moved here to join the community. We have an outstanding group of parents and citizens who all care deeply about the town, hence our intense arguments over the budget every year. I admit that my comment was vague and was meant for a select group of people who have no intention of becoming long term residents and have decided to impose their own beliefs on an already working system. I think my comments have come off as being anti-tax at any cost, but that is not what I am trying to say. We give a lot of money to the town every year and I strongly believe that the money we already give can be used more creatively to maintain our services and education. Being an educator I see waste on a daily basis in the school systems and I know that there are many places we could cut back that would make a surplus in money to fund many of the things that have been cut over the years. It would take some creative and conservative spending but it could be done. Again I mean no offense to those who wish to join the community or to those who want to see the education system thrive and even get better. I just know it can be done for less money and it bothers me to see us spend more every year and again my apologies.
John Haffner March 19, 2012 at 01:35 AM
So tired of this complaining. Its nothing new like you all say. Again I say, if you are unhappy with the Farmington taxes, please give me a list of all other local towns with a LOWER MILL RATE. The rest of this talk is nonsense. Yes, I see you are an educator (which certainly makes YOU the authority to go to with your passive aggressive comments). Is there waste? Obviously there is some as with every town in CT.... At the end of the day what do you really want? The parents to only pay for the BOE part of the budget? It will never happen, so what really do you want? Taxes to be fixed at 0%? That will never happen either. At the end of the day this whole tax discussion is a negociation. Schools go high, taxpayers association goes low. Meet in the middle. Again, please make a list of towns with lower taxes (nevermind the fact that services and schools are at a very high level here). Save yourself the time of blabbing on and on about fantasy. The mill rate is next to nothing, the services (as seen by the October storm) and the schools are great. Be happy for what you get. As far as those on a fixed income? Someone said it best... MOVE. But where? There is literally no choice where your taxes wouldn't go up 30%+ Bottom line is be thankful.
david kellenbach March 19, 2012 at 01:50 AM
Re: Connecticut Magazine http://www.connecticutmag.com/Connecticut-Magazine/November-2011/Rating-the-Towns-2011-25000-50000...";; Farmington nudged out Glastonbury to take the No. 2 spot, largely on the basis of excellent schools, a healthy local economy and lots of things to see and do." So, Farmington regarded as one of the highest - not too shabby considering folks say we have to "rebuild" this year. Quit the spin, stop the rhetoric, and let's cut the fat. Farmington is FINE and our kids are thriving on our EXISTING BUDGETS. In spite of past cuts to programs, Farmington is still in the top ten! Also, with the uncertainty of the upcoming presidential election and the economy stalled, wage freezes, cutbacks on medical - let's hold the line in any more spending.
Matt Pogson March 19, 2012 at 02:03 AM
Well you make some good points Mr. Haffner. I guess I just feel that the economy failed partially because our government has overspent beyond our capabilities. Although Farmington has done a fine job of maintaining a low rate and fair taxes, I am fearful that we will overspend and join the rest of our country in debt. Maybe it’s a pipedream but Id like to live in a place (Farmington) where we live within our means, and I believe we are pushing that limit now. If the times were better I would be more inclined to allow higher taxes, but until then I think we need to be thinking more conservatively until things have rebounded. Maybe that’s a fantasy but it’s a fantasy Id like to see come true, because what good is an education for our children if there isn’t anything waiting for them when they walk out the school doors with their degrees. That’s what is happening now and higher taxes whether they are local or Federal are not going to help fix that. In fact, they will make it worse.
John Haffner March 19, 2012 at 02:10 AM
What fat? Can you specifically point out fat? In some years I may agree with you, and maybe in this case, but generic rhetoric is meaningless to most. The council just did "cut the fat" it seems with their budget (from a mainly conservative council). What else do you want?? I never understood those who spent hours days and week on arguing over a 3.1% budget passing vs. a future 2.8% budget saving them a whooping 3 dollars extra a month. This budget seems like a fair comprimise between getting SOME of the things the schools asked for (certainly not close to all), and holding the line without funding things that shouldn't be funded in these times. Those who are arguing what really do you expect\want from this point? There is a 3% or so budget in front of you. Is that acceptable? Parents seem to say no because they want more services, other taxpayers thing it is too high because they never want any tax increases as both live in a dream world. Seems to me if both sides are so unhappy then this is a fair and reasonable budget right in the middle.
Matt Pogson March 19, 2012 at 03:10 AM
I agree with you Mr. Haffner. I think the Council did a great job of finding a fair middle ground that they felt would make everyone happy. Their decision was diplomatic and fair to both sides. However it is still my opinion that an increase closer to 0 would have been better. It’s not like I’m saying don’t fund the town, I’m simply saying that I think that 0% would be better and help the town’s people more. Remember even if the town receives a 0% increase they are still getting a substantial amount of money to run with. Anyway that’s more then enough of my opinions on the entire subject. Thanks to the town council for trying to keep things fair. Please vote No on May 3rd to show that we do not need more spending and to show that we can run a town on what we spend already. Thanks.
Saul Freedman March 19, 2012 at 03:21 AM
Mr. "Haffner," great to have you back after a month+ hiatus. Just in time to stir the pot in another budget article.
Beth Kintner March 19, 2012 at 05:05 PM
So Matt, you think the Town Council was "diplomatic and fair" in their decision, but you will vote "no" and you are encouraging others to do the same? What would get your "yes" vote? A 0% increase only?
david kellenbach March 19, 2012 at 05:52 PM
First of all, I won't speak for Matt, he can defend himself, but I find your comments more of the same rhetoric - if you live in this town you BETTER support the budget and vote yes, yes, yes to any and all educational requests. I thought this was a free country, to vote for what you feel is right, but at least to get out and vote. By the way, I know of MANY parents that will vote no but keep their comments to themselves lest they endure the wrath of people such as you. Happy voting!
Robin Lindstedt March 19, 2012 at 07:34 PM
Perhaps the BOE and the Town Manager should sharpen their respective pencils and write for Grant $$$...http://www.ge.com/foundation/developing_futures_in_education/stamford_ct.jsp
Matt Pogson March 19, 2012 at 07:47 PM
In all honestly my major concern this year is that we will be re-evaluated soon and a shift of tax burden will be put on the residential properties in town. People are already cutting back, carpooling, buying less at the store and making changes to their everyday lives to try to save a dollar. Fuel prices are also too unpredictable to be spending too much right now. To echo the words of Mr. Hogan “the implications of this evaluation are substantial and scary,” and I don’t think enough people are preparing themselves for that change. We aren’t talking a couple hundred dollars per year difference; we could be talking about the average homeowner paying over a thousand more per year on their taxes without a tax increase. That to me is a big chunk of change and has me worried and that is why I believe that for now we need an increase closer to 0.
Matt Pogson March 19, 2012 at 07:47 PM
I was not going to keep talking but since you’ve asked for my personal opinion I thought I should answer. As I said before I believe the Town Council was diplomatic and fair, and that is a good characteristic for a Town Council. But that does not mean that I agree with their proposed tax increase. As many others may disagree with the council and think the taxes should be even higher then what was proposed. We are all entitled to our opinions and it’s simply my opinion that we can make due with the budget we agreed to last year. Now I will say my opinion is not just something I’m making up for the sake of argument. I do have valid points and concerns about where the money we budget is being spent. However I do not think this is the forum to discuss those details, but I welcome anyone, even Ms. Jett to sit down and discuss our different perspectives. So feel free to email me or talk to me on Facebook or meet for a cup of coffee. I don’t hide behind a pseudonym and I’m open to anyone’s perspective if they make valid, logical, and reasonable points.
Ann C. Jett March 19, 2012 at 08:26 PM
I find it ridiculous that one individual suggests that those of us who are residents with children are a burden on him but I am vilified for an alternative resolution to his problem. Find a town without a school system or children in need of an education. It's a luducris as "Paul's" suggestion. However, comments such as those roll off me like water off a duck's back because I believe the greater good of our community depends on us working together, constructively and productively, to find resolutions which enable us to maintain our town's school system as a center of learning excellence and a destination for thriving growth and development. Even Matt's comments do not disturb me as I welcome any intelligent, open dialogue about meeting the needs of our community. It's a shame when some people try to turn this into a partisian or "us vs. them" mentality. The outcome affects us all. Ms. Lindstedt, as a volunteer who has assisted my children's school prinicipal in locating and writing grant proposals, I can assure that funding through grants is a resource which has and is always reviewed for eligibility.
Paul March 19, 2012 at 11:10 PM
So, living within one's means is "ludicrous?" I glad that you are not in charge of the budget. Yes, I was jokingly sarcastic when I asked for you to help pay for my septic system. I wouldn't ask you seriously, so why am I wrong to not want to pay for other people's children's education? How is that much different. I'm willing to pay in a little to do my part, but I object to the BOE budget going up every single year without fail. Someone has to be fiscally responsible. If you think I'm a bad guy for that, then so be it. I don't like the guilt trip that you try to lay on people that don't agree with you. It is my money, after all, that will be taken from me whether I agree to it or not.
Ann C. Jett March 20, 2012 at 12:17 PM
Mr. Paul - I was suggesting that finding a locale without children or a school district is ludicrous. You may believe it but I can certainly see your side of this debate. The current economic situation affects every family in a variety of ways. There is no guilt trip here. We are simply trying to present facts to support why the Board of Education's budget as presented was necessary and how the reductions made are going to negatively impact the way our schools are going to function and how students are going to be affected. There was no intention to personally attack or insult anyone participating in the discussion. I know how you may have misinterpreted the remarks as I have been the target of personal attacks myself. We simply are on opposite of the fence on this issue. Hopefully, we can come to some agreement to simply respect one another's opinions. Have a good day.

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