Letter: ‘Thank You’ to the Town Council for Budget Vote 

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To those on the Town Council who voted not for the presence or absence of later starts—that decision is made entirely by the BOE, and roughly $1 billion of taxpayer money over 10 years is more than enough to do later starts for all kids if it is a priority—but for some semblance of fiscal restraint, thank you.

You did what you thought was right for the greater good, knowing the economic environment we are in, and especially its impact on working families stretching to live in New Canaan and seniors living on fixed incomes. The affordability of New Canaan has inevitably gone way down, as our house prices have imploded, incomes are down, joblessness is up, and our tax burden moves inexorably higher in almost all years. Obviously there will be supporters and detractors of your decision. Inevitably the voices of the detractors will be louder. If the detractors are using objective data to reinforce their viewpoints, it is fair game. If the detractors have never looked at our budgets or compared them to other towns—the vast majority likely have not—there is less credibility in their views.

The Connecticut unemployment figures are out and it is a sobering picture: since the virus outbreak, roughly 13% of Connecticut’s workforce is newly unemployed, with the number obviously headed higher for now. The direct and knock-on effects on New Canaan have been and will be wide-ranging, even if there is a shorter than expected resolution to the outbreak. Whether it be potential further state tax increases from Connecticut pension shortfalls (they assume a return of roughly 7% on their investments), lower revenue projections locally from shut or limited business activity and income declines on a massive scale, disruptions in the extension of credit, a rise in under-water mortgages and greater home foreclosures in the future or countless other impacts, we are just beginning to understand the enormity of the consequences now.

To those proponents of spending a ~4% higher Board of Education operating budget (versus down ~2% for other town departments) and increases in their budget every year regardless of the environment, I ask: what would have to happen to show fiscal restraint (e.g., a flat spending budget)? Knowledge that research shows there is no correlation between standardized test scores and spending doesn’t have enough impact to sway your spending bias. An economy that is imploding doesn’t sway your spending bias. Pervasive home devaluation in New Canaan that will lead to much higher tax rates—with the tax burden headed towards an extremely regressive distribution—doesn’t sway your spending bias.  Keeping your own word to be fiscally prudent or bend the spending curve doesn’t sway your spending bias.  Dramatic income and wealth reduction doesn’t sway your spending bias. Outmigration from our town, largely due to cost/tax pressures, doesn’t sway your spending bias.  Declining affordability of living here doesn’t sway your spending bias.  What will it take?

As other surrounding towns and cities have started to implement, all non-maintenance capital projects should be pushed out of this budget season and our town—with the second highest spending per resident and highest debt per resident in the state—needs to rethink its fiscal management for the good of its citizens long-term. To assist in this, engaging an outside consulting firm focused on finding efficiencies in fiscal operations—including separating “must haves” from “nice to haves” in a mature way—should be the next responsible step.

3 thoughts on “Letter: ‘Thank You’ to the Town Council for Budget Vote 

  1. Adding my sincere thanks to this letter.

    It wasn’t a comfortable call to make. But it was an important call to make – insisting that the BOE budget adhere to a 2.5% increase. The BOF’s approval of that budget occurred pre-full blown C-19 crisis so any claims that they exercised more wisdom are specious. There is more work to be done and I hope the signal of this vote encourages an assessment of what are absolute priorities down to what is extraneous or can be put on hold.

    Thank you again.
    Siobhan

    Note: I am hoping that a better outcome will emerge for later school start times.

  2. Is our motto now, “Doing less with more”? The budget went up. It did not stay flat. It did not decrease. It went up, as it always has. The budget was not cut. It just did not go up as much as some people wanted it to. And, the increase was passed in the middle of the largest financial upheaval since the Great Depression, with no end in sight. If you ask the town’s residents, they want our school children, all of them at all ages, to have the healthiest start times possible. No one has said we want our kids healthy and safe, but only if there is extra money to pay for it. Our children’s health is and should be every parent and grandparent’s number 1 priority, period. Finding out that our schools do not agree is disappointing.

    • In effect you are implying that all current and past NCHS students have been in an unhealthy situation because of early start times. Sorry but I just can’t except that premise.

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