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$51 Million Budget Plan Headed To Referendum

Town Council restores much of the Board of Education’s original spending request. The revised budget plan, if approved by Tolland voters, would increase property taxes 3.88 percent over the current level.

Doubts about whether the town manager’s projected savings on health insurance for teachers and school administrators in next year’s budget were realistic has led the town council to restore much of the board of education’s original spending request as part of the $51 million budget proposal that will come before voters in May.

After a little tinkering with Town Manager Steven Werbner’s recommended budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, the town council Tuesday evening adopted a spending proposal that includes $35.14 million for education and $10.82 million for government operations. Add in debt service of roughly $4.75 million and capital spending of $335,501, the total budget plan reaches $51,041,662.

Under current revenue projections, the town’s property tax rate for the next fiscal year will be 30.28 mills. This would require property owners to pay $3,028 in tax on each $100,000 of assessed property value. Under Werbner’s budget proposal the tax rate would have been 29.99 mills.

The current mill rate is 29.15 mills. If the council’s budget plan were adopted by residents as is during a day long referendum on May 3, the percentage increase in property taxes would be 3.88 percent over the current level.

Looking for a way to hold the line on property taxes, Werbner had recommended cutting $1.38 million from the , which had been a 6.53 percent increase over the current approved schools budget of $33.8 million. To realize the savings, Werbner had suggested these employees switch to a high deductible insurance plan similar to the one that now covers town hall employees.

Since a high deductible insurance plan, also known as a health savings account HSA plan, is currently available to the teachers and administrators and so few have opted to reenroll in them, town council members questioned the likelihood that participation would reach 81 percent which is the level Werbner estimated was required to reach his projected level of savings.

“I’d rather not pin the budget on a hope,” Council Chairman Frederick Daniels said referring to the unknowns about teacher and administrator participation in an HSA plan.

If council members adopted Werbner’s bottom line and the insurance savings didn’t happen, the school board would be forced to look for the savings elsewhere in the budget. While towns determine the size of the education budget, how that money is spent is left up to the school board.

Werbner artfully dodged Councilwoman April Teveris’s question whether the council’s changes met with his approval. Werbner said the changes were policy decisions which are the purview of the council. Werbner said his job is to give advice.

Werbner did, however, issue a caveat.

“There must be close monitoring” of the budget in the coming year, Werbner said, because of the economic downturn that has threatened state aid to municipalities and cut into other revenues including building permit fees.

“If just five percent of the teachers move to the HSA we will have the same problem next year,” Werbner said.

The council’s budget will be presented to residents on April 26 in advance of the day long budget referendum on May 3. Voting by paper ballot will be from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the .

Bob M. April 06, 2011 at 11:17 AM
Here we go again. Mu ltiple referendums. How can we increase spending when most all have less to spend. Also car taxes in one shot. No for me on first referendum. Bob
Bill April 06, 2011 at 02:51 PM
School board increase of over 6.5%, nope, not happening. I hope everyone comes out and expresses their view. There are far more people that are against that increase than are for but they need to go to the polls to make their views known. It is obscene that we can't express our support for the paltry increase in the town budget and our displeasure in the school budget. I'd actually vote yes if this entire increase was going to the town side.
Mike Pascuzzi April 06, 2011 at 03:13 PM
At the recent Town meeting, I supported the Town Manager's budget, AS PROPOSED. After last nights meeting, my feeling has not changed. I will vote NO for this Democrat budget increase.
marie cohen April 06, 2011 at 05:30 PM
Exactly. Multiple referendums. Over and over again. They love to pretend they don't really know the wishes of their constituents even when we show up and vote NO. History has shown that even after repeated defeats they stick their heads in the sand and nickle and dime the taxpayers to death by chiseling meager crumbs off the top for a re-vote. How often have we heard that a "NO" vote could easily be interpreted as a wish for still HIGHER spending? How delusional. Just so everyone is aware, the Tolland High Principal used the outbound " Alert Now Rapid Notification Service" to robo-call parents to make them aware of the recent budget meeting, in an obvious attempt to further slant participation. Such tactics are obnoxious, unethical, and reprehensible. Every year they find new ways to use school resources to help rally their troops (parents of school-aged kids ONLY) to their cause. Enough. I also find it quite curious that nobody has picked up on the fact that enrollment is projected to DECLINE. In fact, the Superintendent's annual prognostication of enrollment is ALWAYS higher than actual, and this coming year will be no different. Another "piggy bank" nobody notices is the pending retirements of numerous highly compensated long-timers, who will be replaced with newbies at about half the pay. That's $$ to play with come August, and typically allows him a hidden budget-bonus well into six figures. These people better get the message soon. We've had enough of their games!
Max Headroom April 06, 2011 at 05:56 PM
The problem here is that there is NOTHING besides individual goodwill and self-sacrifice to make BOE employees move to the less costly health plan. We need contractual changes to permit BOE benefits to be adjusted to reflect economic realities. I was just barely for the proposal with the 2.9% increase. Thumbs down on this one. If the teachers want to keep their plushy healthcare, they need to give up something else.
tolland voter April 06, 2011 at 07:00 PM
Multiple referendums, maybe. But, at least the town will have the chance to decide. Marie, your comment on the superintendent deliberately redirecting funds to provide himself a hidden bonus? You know something? You can prove something? The audits of the BOE and Town expenditures have been clean for many many years. If I am not mistaken, failure to provide information on a felony is a criminal act. Unless, you are lying... or worse...
Frank Kenney April 06, 2011 at 07:05 PM
It is only fair to start high if no = lower. Otherwise those who want a high budget are disenfranchised. I do think there was enough confusion about the budgets 2-3 years ago that people, including me, were voting no because they wanted the budgets raised.
Max Headroom April 06, 2011 at 07:13 PM
Perhaps the ballots need multiple options for NO that leave room for qualifying the vote. All NO votes would be equal, but there would be a means to differentiate the reasons for the disapproval.
marie cohen April 06, 2011 at 08:34 PM
Don't let this shake your faith in the integrity of budget requests by public officials, but sometimes certain items are overestimated. By a lot. Every year. Failing to take planned retirements into account allows "a little extra sugar" during the budget year. Projecting more students (every year) than actually materialize gives the usual suspects a talking point about per-pupil spending. What's with all the nonsense about felonies and criminal acts? Get a grip. The BOE Budget Request means NOTHING! Line items are REGULARLY re-allocated. The BOE has sole discretion as to how the lump-sum they are given is allocated. Haven't you ridden this merry-go-round before???
marie cohen April 06, 2011 at 08:44 PM
Max, are you new to town? That's been done to death! Unfortunately for the big spenders the results were just the opposite of what they'd hoped for. Everybody voted CUT!! CUT!! CUT!! Then they smartened up and stopped asking advisory questions and slowly went back to pretending again. What is this, Groundhog Day?? You can't seriously want to play this game with the taxpayers AGAIN, can you???
Bill April 06, 2011 at 09:03 PM
Marie has apparently been on this rodeo before. What she said on both accounts is correct. We did do the advisory questions several years ago. Certain people didn't like the way things came out so they didn't do them any more. And there are parts of the budget that aren't allocated to specific things. And things can and do get shifted around. And don't forget that rush at the end of the fiscal year to burn off any remaining money to make sure the budgets are entirely used in the year. Don't want any money left over at the end of the fiscal year. That isn't to imply that they do anything illegal. But don't think for a second that extra money isn't allocated, certainly by the BOE. Meanwhile the town agencies are trying to find money to pay for fuel and paper.
Diane Clokey April 07, 2011 at 10:39 PM
Interesting that one would want to discourage participation by those who do not share their views. Schools helping to get the word out about civic events is not advocacy, it is information sharing. No different than posting something on a town hall or senior center bulletin board.
Max Headroom April 07, 2011 at 11:38 PM
Diane, politics of the last several years has been all about discouraging opposing views - bullying, intimidating, belittling and simply shouting down everyone who holds a different opinion. Discussion is dead, consensus is a word in the dictionary and democracy is a slogan shouted by petty tyrants. It doesn't even matter who wins the most votes because the losing side will never stop shouting that their guy/gal/position "really" won, somehow. Sad to see it come to community politics, where the opponents aren't a faceless mass to whom you can assign any ugly traits you like, but your neighbors.
Diane Clokey April 08, 2011 at 12:29 PM
Max, you have articulated my central concern about this community really well. I can shut out the noise on the Federal level, but I am SO discouraged about the fact that problem-solving at the local level is practically impossible. We talk past each other, people stake out indefensible postions based on lies and innuendo (but if they say it they loud enough, people believe) and compromise is unheard of. We demonize people who disgree instead of looking for a solution that works.
marie cohen April 08, 2011 at 08:42 PM
Spin like that is truly Clintonesque! So a highly-paid town employee using an expensive government tool to robocall what is clearly a specific and well-defined special interest group is just "information sharing!" Move along, nothing to see here.... Wow. And somehow NOT doing so would be discouraging participation? Seriously?? How can you possibly expect anyone to swallow that tripe? Such contorted and deliberate misunderstanding is truly remarkable. I'll say it again. In my opinion it is obnoxious, unethical, and reprehensible for a town employee to use government owned and controlled telephone resources in an obvious attempt to gin up support for higher spending by selectively contacting parents of school children only. Will they do it again to turn out their vote for the referendum? Let's see just how out-of-control this situation has become. Mr. Werbner, there really needs to be an investigation into this activity, and it needs to cease.
Frank Kenney April 11, 2011 at 04:52 AM
The problem with the advisory questions were they could not be connected to the budget votes. That is, you couldn't tell whether someone saying too low or too high on the advisory questions had actually voted for or against the budget. Hence the movement to the "No = decrease" approach. I am not sure whether giving a "against/too low" and a "against/too high" option along with a "for" option for the vote would help much. My guess is if the budget that passed last year had been voted on with three options, you would have gotten something like: Against/too high 45% Against/too low 40% For 15% I'm not sure what you'd do with a result like that...
marie cohen April 12, 2011 at 01:35 AM
Fortunately we actually have real, legitimate results from prior years to prove your conclusion and wild guess totally wrong. Referendum Results from May 1, 2007: Reject Budget 1833 (70.2%); Accept Budget 779 (29.8)%; Cut Town $$ 2039 (86.7%); Increase Town $$ 312 (13.3)%; Cut School $$ 1707 (69.9)%; Increase School $$ 735 (30.1%). Now you know why they stopped asking. They didn't like the answer!
Frank Kenney April 12, 2011 at 03:32 AM
So, using those numbers, the vote could have been: Reject/Too high 40.1% Accept 29.8% Reject/Too low 30.1% I don't like this answer either; there is no choice that would satisfy a majority of the voters.
Max Headroom April 12, 2011 at 03:46 AM
Sure there is. Lower the budget and pick up some part of the No/too high voters, or vice versa. What there isn't is a clear mandate to go one way or the other. One of the troublesome threads here (and in many political discussions these days ) is that "majority" doesn't mean majority; it means unanimity. If a candidate or a measure or a budget passes with 75% of the vote, the losing 25% spend the entire term outraged at having been "cheated."
Frank Kenney April 12, 2011 at 04:19 AM
I don't recall anything close to a 75%/25% split recently. What is 75% is the no-shows; I do have a problem with that.
Max Headroom April 12, 2011 at 03:42 PM
MAM, Bill and Marie in particular have made much about the bulk of the budget being for only 25% of the population, and Marie has made multiple claims that the school and this population somehow misuse their ability to rally votes. If this were even slightly true, one or two dedicated flag-wavers could easily rally a countering vote. Since that doesn't seem to happen, ever, I take it as evidence that their position(s) are in a distinct minority among Tolland voters.
Diane Clokey April 12, 2011 at 09:45 PM
Marie, thanks for the lofty compliment, but mine comment was not spin, just fact. Means of communication change with the times. This question of the district communicating factual information to its families has been asked and answered, let's move on.
marie cohen April 13, 2011 at 03:14 AM
So I suppose you'd have no issue then if the Town Manager used a Town-owned van to transport senior citizens to the polls on referendum day, right?. Hey, it's just an outreach program to encourage participation. We want to be inclusive, and to improve turnout, right Diane? Seniors aren't a special interest group, are they? You'd be screaming bloody murder along with a plethora of Tolland's usual big spending proponents. If this weren't such an unethical one-party burg the actions of the Tolland HS Principal and her free use of their expensive outbound telephone notification system to rouse their selective special interest group would be under intense scrutiny by the media and government regulators. You stole my line. Nothing to see here. Just move along, right Diane? What blindingly partisan spin!
Max Headroom April 13, 2011 at 03:41 AM
First off, a robocall system is essentially costless to operate. A few bucks for the juice, maybe. If you can point to a rule or law that says the principal was barred from using the system to contact parents on ANY general school related matter - or even something unrelated - please do so. There are only about 900 families reached via this method - or less than 6 percent of the population, and likely no more than 4-5 percent of the voters. It's a very small town. If you really think your voice is so oppressed, you could reach every single household for pocket change. Most political efforts that expend hundreds of thousands to barely raise issue awareness in part of a voting populace. I don't buy your oppression tales, nor your anti-democracy ranting. You and Bill and Luther want things different, and think some small minority controls things? Should be no problem for you to rally a bigger force and get your way. Of course, you'd have to do something besides complain in this pocket venue.
marie cohen April 13, 2011 at 04:27 AM
Funny stuff. You claim it's "democracy" when YOUR side is busy unilaterally abusing commonly accepted ethics and calling the shots. And you have the incredible gall to consider the selective and partisan use of PUBLIC property by government employees to be in the name of democracy? With an increasing number of alleged citizens such as yourself, America is certainly doomed. Rationalize it all you want. It's unethical, immoral, and decidedly un-democratic. Government employees should not be paid to use public property to selectively contact members of a special interest group in an attempt to further loot taxpayer's pockets. It's blatantly offensive to those of us who appreciate and defend freedom and liberty that you can't or won't acknowledge those simple facts. Your credibility is zero.
Diane Clokey April 13, 2011 at 01:23 PM
Families who have children in school also pay taxes. Not sure how education has become the interest of only "a few". Clearly, Marie, you have a whole history here that has made you angry about politics in Tolland --- which I completely understand! While we may be on opposite sides of this thing, I am in hearty agreement that the system we are in is not working. We talk past each other, we pick fights over the trees and completely lose sight of the forest.
Bill April 13, 2011 at 01:34 PM
When some of these policies are passing by single digit numbers at times, I wonder how many of those robo-called votes tipped the scales. I guess if it is a small, unethical (at a minimum) use of town equipment, its not overly important, if it gets you what you want.
Max Headroom April 13, 2011 at 03:33 PM
I'll reiterate and then move on - this discussion has become pointlessly circular. Democracy is when a population is given the opportunity to vote and then abides by the majority result. It's not when the losing side spends the entire term or interval bitterly complaining about the result and seeking to undermine it. When the losing side loses repeatedly, it's not a sign that the winners cheated - it's a sign that they are indeed the majority or that the losers, for all the hurricanes of hot air, aren't sufficiently motivated to actually change things. If Marie, Bill and Luther are convinced that the referendum votes are somehow being stolen or misdirected, the evidence is against them. If some small percentage of overall voters determined the result, all the opponents ever have to do is rally enough of their own forces - an equally small amount plus one - to prevail. As this doesn't seem to happen very often, I conclude that the votes represent some significant majority of Tolland citizens who either vote because it's important to them, or don't vote because either they don't care about the outcome or are confident it will be acceptable. If the contrary viewpoint were truly some "real" majority, then it's their own fault for never getting off their duffs and actually, you know, *voting*. Maybe without a personal robocall reminder they just, you know, *forgot*. Or were too busy, you know, *complaining*. Max out.
Kelly Pabilonia May 05, 2011 at 05:07 PM
I am grateful for the " Alert Now Rapid Notification Service" to call parents to make them aware of the recent budget meeting, and I hope they do it again 0n 5/17/11. I actually like the transportaion idea too, I wish it was a service offered to any and all voters. I'd hate to think someone didnt vote b/c the lack of transportation. What a great idea! I hope more voters come out for the vote on 5/17/11!!

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