If taxpayers quickly glance at the bottom lines of the proposed 2018-19 municipal and school budgets before and after the Board of Finance made its final recommendations and sent those proposals off to the Legislative Council March 1, the differences might seem fractional.
And it would be hard to know about the well-conceived and eloquent presentations made by representatives of Newtown’s Parks & Rec, IT, and Economic & Community Development departments without having attended both of the finance board’s February 26 and February 28 budget sessions.
But it appeared that those presentations, and their accompanying requests for additional budget dollars, fell on receptive ears as the finance board unanimously endorsed taking $150,000 away from the town’s operational budget for local road repairs to provide $100,000 more to the municipal technology department, to buy another heavy duty pickup truck outfitted for plowing for the parks department, and funding a requested additional staff position to assist with economic development efforts.
While equally thoughtful motions, justifications, and debate for those actions were presented by finance board members generally casting their budget changes as big investments that could save taxpayers money in the future, one thing is certain: if the council accepts and approves those recommendations, it will mean more residents will be driving over more potholes for another year — versus if the council acts to restore the town budget proposal to what the Board of Selectmen submitted to the finance board in early February.
As First Selectman Dan Rosenthal explains it, he and Finance Director Robert Tait worked in good faith with all town department heads and agency leaders to craft a budget request that would equate to a minimal increase for taxpayers, while still investing in what the majority of them calling the first selectman’s office to complain want: faster and more widespread response to local road repairs.
While considering taxpayers already authorized bonding $1.5 million in addition to $1.75 million proposed by selectmen in the Highway Department’s corresponding operations budget, Mr Rosenthal will be the first to say that road repair funding requested by selectmen for next year still does not equate to the amount Newtown was investing in its roads when his father Herb Rosenthal left the first selectman’s office in 2007.
That long-term road improvement initiative calling for an annual $2 million in operational funds to continue maintaining and improving local roads veered off the rails as the recession deepened in 2008 and never quite got back on track. And while Dan Rosenthal was aiming to get back to where his father left off — by the end of his own first term — finance officials dealt that well-laid plan another setback by shifting a seemingly minuscule amount from the massive road repair budget line to other departments.
If the council honors the finance board’s recommendation instead of the selectmen’s request, the big investments finance officials envisioned when taking from the highway department to bump up IT, parks, and economic development spending will equate to more bumps next year as taxpayers continue navigating through the increasingly deepening potholes multiplying across Newtown’s deteriorating roadways.
This editorial was contributed by Associate Editor John Voket.