Tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. the BET’s budget committee will hold its first discussion of the draft budget guidelines prepared by committee chairman Joseph Pellegrino. This budget guidelines workshop will be held in training room B on the 3rd floor of the police facility.
Contrary to some of the misinformation that has been put forward, these are the chairman’s DRAFT guidelines. They have not yet even been discussed by the full committee, much less adopted as some commentators have assumed.
Therefore, also contrary to some of the misinformation that’s out there, the two Democratic members of the budget committee have not signed off on these guidelines and are highly unlikely to do so unless significant changes are made.
But it’s not just the BET Democrats who find these draft guidelines unacceptable.
The feedback from the community and town departments so far has been negative. The Superintendent of Schools and the Board of Education have already expressed concern about the impact on the operating and capital budgets for the schools.
And it’s not just the schools. These draft guidelines have negative implications in all areas of service delivery: public safety, health, natural resources, recreation, infrastructure maintenance, infrastructure improvement, and the needs of our most vulnerable residents.
Historically, it has been BET policy to hold mill rate increases to between 2% and 4%, which the BET has succeeded in doing over the past twelve years. At the same time, there has always been an effort to present a budget that provides the level of services that our community expects and deserves.
These budget guidelines, with an arbitrary cap at 2% for total operating cost increases in FY14, undermine the original intent of BET budget guidelines that were meant to improve communication and provide town department heads with helpful guidance as they prepared their budgets.
These draft guidelines are not helpful.
In the end, the budget should reflect cooperative efforts between the BET, first selectman, Board of Education, department heads, CIP committee, RTM and the public. Ultimately, the budget represents the work of many people throughout the town.
Tomorrow morning is the first discussion of the first draft of the budget guidelines. On October 10, the budget committee votes on its final draft of these guidelines. And on October 15, the full BET takes up the guidelines.
This is just the beginning of a long process that culminates with the BET’s adoption of a budget in the spring that it then presents to the RTM for approval in May.
If all four members of the budget committee can’t agree on the guidelines at tomorrow morning’s meeting, which is likely to happen if the draft guidelines aren’t modified, then the guidelines go to the full BET with a budget committee vote that’s split along party lines.
And if the full BET can’t agree on the guidelines, that would seem to render the guidelines meaningless. That would also set the stage for a contentious budget process.
This would be an unprecedented situation, and ultimately not a good thing for the town.
Let’s hope these draft guidelines are re-written as a bi-partisan document that allows for the level of service our community wants.