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Voter Edification Vital For Best Decisions

Published: April 20, 2017

The annual referendum to approve town and school budgets takes place Tuesday, April 25. Newtown voters will be asked to approve $40,399,575 for the municipal budget for 2017-18 and separately, to approve the school budget of $72,995,957.

Voters will decide if the municipal budget is appropriate to keep our town wheels turning, and if the amount requested for schools will properly fund them.

Making a voting decision is always fraught with challenges; making it even more so this year are the unknowns lurking in the still-to-be-approved state budget that could have a large impact on municipalities.

That these state actions will not be determined prior to the vote on the town budget leaves town officials and voters making choices, if not in the dark, at least in a twilight zone.

Six additional questions in this referendum require thoughtful consideration: $3 million in bonding for a new senior center; $300,000 to begin planning and design for a new police station; $1.8 million for improvements at NMS; $850,000 for a new Hawley School roof; $750,000 to complete the NHS auditorium upgrade; and $1 million for road work.

Each deserves careful attention as to its short- or long-term value, and as to the quality of life any or all adds to Newtown. Educating oneself prior to April 25 in order to cast a vote with confidence is essential.

Town officials — who also live and work in Newtown, let’s not forget — have spent weeks determining how best to present these budgets; they have mulled over numerous options to deal with the state revenue uncertainties hobbling solid local budget decisions. Ultimately, they have determined to proceed with a budget based on an assumption of a $3 million deficit in state revenue, and one that includes reductions in contributions to the municipal pension and medical self-insurance funds, capital roads maintenance, and maintenance to schools. Newtown does have a revenue increase of $900,000 in the grand list mainly from commercial revenue growth; this increase in revenue would reduce taxation in a “normal” year, but will be put toward funding any loss from the state.

A “best case scenario” would mean that money from overestimating results of the state budget would allow town officials to ask for appropriations to re-fund some reductions.

Officials have wisely decided against options that could have voters approving a budget that would result in an additional tax midyear, or resetting to a higher mill rate post-voting.

Voters still must predetermine how comfortable they are with proposed reductions to services and improvements, or further reductions, should a less desirable scenario come to fruition.

This is not a budget in which voting decisions can be made based on word-of-mouth or social media opinions.

Referendum questions and explanations can be found in the April 14 issue of The Newtown Bee, with other detailed information of the budgets found in this week’s and previous weeks’ print editions, and at newtownbee.com. Legislative Council Chair Mary Ann Jacob has offered to be available for residents with questions, and can be reached via e-mail by selecting her name in the council section of the “Government” tab at www.newtown-ct.gov.

Be educated, cautious, and fair when voting next week. Every budget propels the future of our town.

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