Another budget veto

Harkins nixes $216.3-million budget approved by Town Council

 

Mayor John Harkins signs a second budget veto on Wednesday, negating at $216.3-million spending plan approved on Monday by the Town Council. — Melvin Mason photo

For the second time in three weeks, Mayor John Harkins has said no to a budget passed by the Town Council.

At a Wednesday morning press conference, Harkins broke out his veto pen to nix a $216.3- million plan approved by the Town Council just two days earlier.

The plan approved in a 6-4 council vote came near the end of another lively and sometimes angry meeting. The approved proposal, developed by Council Majority Leader and 6th District Councilman Philip Young and introduced by 5th District Councilman Greg Cann, would have removed more than $3 million from Harkins’ second proposed $219.4 million plan. The council-approved plan would have given the Board of Education a $109 million budget, roughly $700,000 less than what Harkins had introduced. It also included reductions to Town Hall offices from Harkins’ proposal, including 15% less for the council clerk’s office, the mayor’s office, human resources, the town attorney, the chief administrative officer and the Registrar of Voters office.

Voting yes were Cann, Young, 3rd District Councilman Wali Kadeem, 7th District Councilman Marianne Antezzo, 10th District Councilman Tina Manus and 2nd District Councilman Scott Farrington-Posner. Farrington-Posner, who had proposed a series of much deeper cuts, cast the final vote, although reluctantly.

Harkins said Wednesday that the approved budget does not do enough for the Board of Education and that his proposed budget would have maintained a flat municipal budget.

Harkins said the passed budget would reverse the progress made to improve the schools. He also criticized the council members for passing a budget that lacks vision for the future.

“We actually have a plan for our town. The budget that was passed on Monday night, there is no plan,” said Harkins.

The mayor also noted that the councilors failed to pass a mill rate. The Cann/Young budget would have kept the tax rate at 38.99 mills.

“They passed [the budget] and ran out of the chamber. It’s like they’re running away from their responsibility to govern effectively and responsibly,” Harkins said. “That’s not what I’m here for.”

Harkins added that a zero tax increase sounds good, but will not properly fund the town’s obligations and would likely lead to a larger tax increase in the 2018-19 fiscal year.  

Harkins and Chief Administrative Officer Chris Tymniak also pointed out that the Cann/Young budget offered reductions without indicating which line items would be affected. Council Chairman Beth Daponte made similar comments at Monday’s meeting.

Fifth District Councilman Greg Cann during Monday’s Town Council meeting. — Melvin Mason photo

Cann responded to the veto on Wednesday, saying Harkins supports a budget that requires a “regressive tax increase that punishes the most vulnerable of households,” requires deficit spending and “insists on triple billing” the Water Pollution Control Authority customers, “further punishing the ratepayers with a regressive fee.”

“The Mayor and his administration are very prone to complaining, but they fail to respond to questions from the community or the Town Council,” Cann said Wednesday. “The Mayor does not substantiate his complaints with facts, the Mayor’s office does not provide rational explanations for all their public hysteria, and that level of ‘complaining without justification’ is an absolute abdication of fiscal responsibility. “

Cann said Monday that no town department head offered any possible budget reduction besides the Stratford Police saying they could do without one police officer.

The no votes came from Daponte, Council Minority Leader and 8th District Councilman Vincent Chase, 4th District Councilman David Harden and 9th District Councilman Alan Llewelyn.

Chase said the approved plan would do “irreparable harm to both education and the town side of the budget.”

“We’re more than willing to compromise, we’ve discussed compromise and we’ve been getting nowhere. We’ve been getting stonewalled.” Chase said in frustration. The councilors who voted yes “are determined to have a zero tax increase. That’s not doable. There are contracts that have to be paid.”

Chase said a compromise could produce a budget that includes a minimal tax increase of $10 to $12 a month.  

Farrington-Posner’s proposed amendment, which would have reduced the Registrar of Voters employees to part-time, eliminated the mayor’ chief of staff position and cut out the economic development supervisor post, failed 6-4. Farrington-Posner said he wanted to divert those savings to the Board of Ed.

While the plan passed, Cann knew a veto was coming. Cann said Harkins informed him after the vote that the approved plan will be rejected, just as a $216.1-million budget approved on May 17 was vetoed a week later with a signature before an audience at Bunnell High School.

Cann said a veto would give the council more time to sit down and talk.

Harkins expects the Town Council will have a meeting on Monday to continue negotiations. Harkins said he hopes that the council can devise something that will pass.

Manus said the four councilors who voted against the approved plan “have no plans on not raising taxes.“

“They have put forward no plan that lowers or holds the line on taxes.  I have voted for every plan [that] lowered and/or held taxes flat,” she said.

Democratic Town Committee Chairman Stephanie Philips, a candidate for Mayor, said Harkins and others are missing the point.

“Here we go again. Mayor Harkins and friends still [don’t] understand Stratford. Taxpayers are saying ‘no’ to more tax increases, just like they said ‘no’ to selling our WPCA plant,” Philips said Wednesday afternoon. “The status quo is no longer acceptable, and the residents of Stratford deserve better. Stratford needs vision and solutions, not more excuses and aspersions. Our community is facing real issues; seniors can no longer afford to stay in their homes, businesses are leaving, and families are struggling. Other towns around the state are saying ‘no’ to tax increases; it is time we do the same.”

Adam Brill, a Democratic candidate for the 8th District Town Council seat, said he is “ashamed” of Chase. Brill says Chase and Harkins don’t understand.

“Wherever I go around the 8th District, people want to understand what is going on in Town Hall and how this year’s budget veto will impact them financially. Speaking to friends at condos at Oronoque, Far MIll River and Tudor Ridge, I hear over and over that they are struggling to manage common charges, tax district fees along with property taxes, car taxes, capital improvement assessments and sewer fees while seeing property value steadily decline,” Brill said.

Chase is not running for a second term on the council.

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Editor for the Stratford Star. Former reporter for the Darien Times.

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  • Greg Cann

    FYI, neither Daponte or Chase or Harkins has introduced any type of compromise, The public record verifies they’ve merely “held their line”. Further, despite six weeks of complaining, not one of them has introduced evidence that a zero tax increase budget as twice approved by a bi-partisan majority of the town council will result in “irreparable harm to both education and the town side of the budget.”

    Over the past four years, our town has already increased funding for its public schools by over 21% or $3000 EXTRA spending per student – that a rate of increase that is 4x inflation, and the “hard-liner six” approved another 2.09% increase to BOE budget that continues to fund all staff salaries, while also encouraging BOE’s central office administration to implement identified cost savings opportunities that will cut waste (i.e. $65,000 for heating oil that is budgeted but never spent!) and will not reduce funding for direct-to-student services.

  • Alta Vista

    It seems quite clear that the Mayor and his supporters on the Town Council are out of touch with the financial reality of Stratford today. People on this forum talk about the long-time residents who are selling their homes. Those are the lucky few that are even able to sell them. I see homes listed in town for more than TWO years, without a sale.

    One could almost believe that the Mayor still holds a grudge against the taxpayers who defeated his plan to sell off a major town asset – WPCA plant – which had been upgraded substantially. Sewer fees quadrupled over 12 years to support these improvements.

    Mayor Harkins seems more devoted to the core principles of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council than to the taxpayers of Stratford. If you’re not familiar with ALEC – and its critics – you should research them online. It explains a lot about what’s happening right here and now in Stratford.

    • Frank Parady

      Devoted to ALEC? He is more like a high priest of their slavish devotion to all of their corporate masters. Again and again, he has chosen their principles over doing the right thing for the people of Stratford. He has abandoned his post to attend their events, no matter what important events were occurring here. Much the financial nonsense that has occurred during his term in office, with the WPCA and other town enterprise funds, are further examples of his slavish devotion to their principles over the needs of the people of the Town.

      • Alta Vista

        An excellent place for people to start to learn about the corrosive effects of ALEC’s corporate-driven legislation is Ava DuVernay’s Oscar-nominated documentary “13th.”

        It details the methodology behind the mass incarceration of Black Americans and the drive towards privatization of the US prison system led by ALEC written laws. And this is only one part of ALEC’s anti-democratic agenda.

  • SCR

    *Test*

  • SCR

    Why are my posts being held back????

  • SCR

    If a post violates forum rules in some fashion, a notification would be great. Thanks.

    • Melvin Mason

      Let me know if you have a question about a post. Email me at [email protected].

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