Newtown has been the object of countless acts of generosity since 12/14. Whether through sympathy or a sense of kinship — that we’re all in this difficult and dangerous world together — perfect strangers have declared themselves citizens of the emotional territory of Newtown and have done their part to support through donations, both cash and in-kind, Newtown’s future recovery. Next Tuesday, Newtown’s actual citizens will have to declare themselves on the matter of the town’s future by voting on a budget. As we know, the sum of a town is not simply what one finds on the bottom line of a ledger, but in the accounts of expenses and revenues for 2013-2014 there is much that defines the town’s inclination toward its own future.
The April 23 referendum questions will ask taxpayers to endorse an overall budget of $111,149,825, with $72,095,304 in school district spending and town expenses of $39,054,520, including more than $10 million in debt service for both town and school borrowing. These totals reflect a 4.7 percent increase in spending over the current fiscal year, generating a 5.24 percent increase in the tax rate, once the revaluation of the tax rolls is taken into account. It is the kind of increase that normally would generate deep skepticism and opposition from taxpayers in years past. This year, however, the Board of Education, the Board of Finance, and the Legislative Council have concluded that these budget proposals are justified by need — and they were largely formulated before 12/14.
For the first time, thanks to a charter change ratified by voters last fall, the town will vote separately on school and town spending. Rather than accentuate the traditional fault lines between school advocates and opponents, we believe this year’s “bifurcated” budget will reveal no such bifurcation in Newtown’s support for its school system or for its municipal underpinnings.
As one Legislative Council member pointed out, approval of this year’s budget will be a leap of faith by taxpayers, when there is so much uncertainty about the true costs of 12/14, and the school district administration is in such flux with an interim superintendent and three school principals in transition. But more than any other year, this is no time for Newtown to lose faith. We urge taxpayers to take heart from those many strangers who stepped up to be a part of Newtown’s future by voting to support both the town and school budgets on April 23.