With just under 4,500 of the town’s eligible voters casting ballots Tuesday, the first split town budget referendum failed on both sides. But most voters also took the time to express through ballot questions that the amounts tendered for next year’s spending plans were too high.
On the town side of the ballot, 2,207 endorsed the request with 2,273 voting No – a difference of 66. And on the school district side, 1,994 voted for the budget but 2,476 rejected it.
Responding to the ballot question, which asked if the sum of the municipal proposal was too low, 299 voted Yes, while 3,927 voted No. For the school budget, 605 voted Yes, while 3,650 voted No.
In all 4,495 voters responded, including 85 who cast absentee ballots.
First Selectman Pat Llodra was on hand for the results. Shaking her head as moderator Carol Mattegat read the results Mrs Llodra said, “This is disappointing.”
Stating that the vote is “hard to interpret,” considering the selectman’s budget failed by just 66 votes, she added that 66 people feel the proposed sum was “unacceptable.”
“The voters have spoken,” she said.
Legislative Council Chairman Jeff Capeci told The Bee that the days and weeks leading up to the first referendum were quiet, and as he followed the voter tallies throughout the day he was struck by how similar the turnout was to last year’s first failed referendum.
Turning his attention to the council’s pending action to present a second proposal, he said, “It’s clear we’ll be looking for areas of savings to reduce taxation.”
Mr Capeci was also gratified that so many budget voters took the initiative to answer ballot questions.
"The answers to those questions make it obvious what the taxpayers want,” he said. “It’s encouraging that people took advantage of the opportunity to help direct the council as we move forward. For the first time we actually have proof of what we previously all knew in our hearts (about the voters’ feelings).”
The council chairman said he is planning to call a special meeting Tuesday, April 30. This will give the council members time to hear from constituents and to digest the outcome numbers.
Provided the council moves both sides of the budget request to a second referendum April 30, the next vote will likely be held Tuesday, May 14.
Board of Education Chair Debbie Leidlein said upon hearing the final count that she was “disappointed but not surprised.”
On Wednesday after the vote was announced, Ms Leidlein said she was not planning to call a school board meeting prior to next week’s council session to discuss the budget.
Shortly after the referendum results were posted Ms Leidlein said it would be difficult to initiate a discussion on possible reductions until her board has an approved final budget authorization.
“I don’t want to prequalify or predispose potential future reductions,” she said. “Once we have a final number we can sit down and approach the challenge creatively, and hopefully in a way that will not impact programs.”
Ms Leidlein said the response to ballot questions “make it evident that voters overwhelmingly feel the budgets were too high, so the only logical course the council has is to make reductions.”
With that in mind, Ms Leidlein said she hopes those reductions will be made incrementally, as the council has done in previous years.
“Now it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get back to work,” she said.
Earlier this month, the council moved a proposed budget of $111,149,825 to referendum — $72,095,304 in school district spending requests, and a town-side request of $39,054,520, which included $10,058,924 in debt service on committed school and town capital borrowing.
If approved, the budget would have increased spending about 4.7 percent over the current year, while generating a 5.24 percent tax increase according to town Finance Director Robert Tait.
Because of this year’s revaluation, with average property values dropping markedly, an approved budget would have bumped the current 24.54 mill rate to 33.77.
A mill represents one dollar in taxation for every $1,000 in taxable property.