The first "zero increase" budget in recent memory is now before voters in the annual budget referendum. Qualified voters may cast bifurcated, or split town and school budget ballots, in person today, April 22, at Newtown Middle School, until 8 pm. On April 2, the council endorsed sending a request for $111,066,204 to voters to cover town and school services, along with annual debt service for capital projects, which is carried in the Board of Selectmen budget. While the approved budget request represents a 0.91 percent increase in spending above the current year, because of updated revenue projections, the spending plan requires 0.02 percent less in taxation than the current operating budget — and will require a 2014-15 tax rate of 33.31 mills, representing no change, or what is commonly termed “zero increase.”
Turnout at today's budget referendum was lagging about 500 votes behind the number of ballots cast at the same time during the first referendum in 2013 according to a spokesperson staffing the local Registrars of Voters office. At the 2 pm hourly tally, 1,400 ballots had been cast. There were 1,914 budget ballots cast at the same time during the first budget vote in 2013. In the days and weeks leading up to today's referendum, some officials worried privately that the lack of controversy throughout this year's budget process might cause fewer residents to come out and vote. Legislative Council Chair Mary Ann Jacob spent time Tuesday morning and planned to spend more time standing near the Middle School and in Sandy Hook center holding pro-budget signs reminding drivers to make a stop at the polls.
Keno, the unwanted child of Connecticut politics, vilified by gambling opponents and publicly defended by no major political figure, improbably remains alive as the General Assembly begins the last two weeks of the 2014 session. The leaders of the House and Senate, after calling for the repeal of the electronic lottery game after an improving revenue forecast in January indicated the state could afford to forgo new gambling income, now are hedging their bets. "It’s in the budget until somebody finds an alternative funding source,” said Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr. (D-Brooklyn). House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey (D-Hamden) said he intends to “reserve judgment” on repeal until he sees revenue figures at the end of April, a key month for income-tax collections. Opponents are dumbfounded. After all, Governor Dannel P. Malloy all but disowned it.
The Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (DESPP) commissioner said April 16 that she has completed her preliminary review of consolidated state police radio dispatching and has formulated a plan for moving forward. Dora Schriro said that all administrative calls, which do not include a call for service by state troopers, will be directed to the local barracks where they are best handled locally by personnel at the barracks, in person or by phone. All 911 calls requiring the dispatching of troopers will continue to be directed to consolidated dispatch locations, in keeping with a growing trend to focus on consolidating 911 calls in the interest of improved public safety, she said. The formation of both a working group of in-house experts, including dispatchers, troopers and sergeants, and an advisory group, comprised of representatives of municipalities, will be employed to elicit feedback on an ongoing basis and address issues and concerns as they arise, she said.
Community, nature, and mentoring all play key roles in raising healthy children, said Two Coyotes Wilderness School Executive Director Justin Pegnataro. He will present the talk “It Takes A Village To Raise A Child” on Wednesday, April 23, at Newtown Prevention Council’s next Parent Speakers Series program.
The Newtown Public Schools Recovery Project has slated its next parent forums, which will be held at Reed Intermediate School and Hawley Elementary School. Each forum will be presented twice, once during the school day and in the evening, to allow for maximum participation. Forums run for one hour. The Reed Parent Forum, “Springtime Stress Management,” is set for Wednesday, April 23. The Hawley Parent Forum, “Video Game Addiction,” will be on Thursday, April 24.
Nearly three dozen local seniors turned out Wednesday evening to learn about the details and ask questions on the proposed updates to a senior tax relief initiative currently being tapped by more than 2,000 homeowners. Several updates to the current program and its related ordinance will be the subject of a planned public hearing on May 7 in the Newtown Municipal Center legislative chambers at 7 pm. The information forum April 16 was the latest in a series of meetings that have been going on across the community for months, as elected officials have responded to private homes and age-restricted communities to discuss and learn more about the concerns and challenges local seniors are facing. Speaking to The Newtown Bee before the meeting, Board of Finance Chairman John Kortze said that during the most recent gatherings, response to the tax relief program and its proposed updates have been well received. “The feedback and input we’re getting has been overwhelmingly positive,” Mr Kortze said. “These meetings are an opportunity to give seniors a voice, and to let them be heard.”
Shortly after reviewing a letter to the editor in this week’s pre-budget vote edition of The Newtown Bee, Legislative Council Chair Mary Ann Jacob reached out hoping to clarify what she believes is a lingering misconception regarding the council’s ability to add funds back if the school and/or town proposals fail at referendum April 22. Ms Jacob said that while the issue of whether or not the council can add more money to either side appears to be a point of contention among a few residents, she is concerned that misinformation could still confuse budget voters, or worse, cause them to opt out of casting a budget ballot next Tuesday. Ms Jacob said it is critical for residents and taxpayers to understand the fine print in Newtown's Charter, which only empowers the council to add back funds up to the amount originally requested by the Boards of Education and Selectmen. This year's budget is somewhat of an anomaly because after the Boards of Education and Selectmen made their final requests, the Board of Finance added funds to both budget lines.
Local businesses including Newtown Savings Bank and the Connecticut Better Business Bureau have been busy alerting business owners about the “Heartbleed” security flaw that targets computer servers running the most widely used Internet encryption security system. According to BBB, security engineers discovered that Heartbleed exploits a flaw in OpenSSL, which allowed them to view passwords and user names when they tested the virus. Within 24 hours of the news about Heartbleed, Newtown Savings Bank officials were assuring customers that none of the bank’s sites are or have been vulnerable to the threat. Bank customers were notified, however, that many popular Internet sites have been vulnerable.
An ongoing $6 million state project to replace two Interstate-84 bridges, which cross above Center Street in the Riverside section of Sandy Hook, is about half complete, according to a state Department of Transportation (DOT) spokesman. Matthew Cleary, a transportation supervising engineer, said April 15 that construction work at the bridges resumed in early April following a cold, lengthy winter. “We just started back up for the [construction] season,” he said. Construction records indicate that about one-half of the construction work has been completed, he said. Mr Cleary said that DOT plans to have the bridge project substantially complete by late November, with certain details such as landscape plantings, to be done in the spring of 2015. Work on the project started in the spring of 2013 and continued until late December before halting for the winter.