Item #14 on the RTM Call for Monday’s March meeting appears, thankfully, to be dead in the water. This was a follow up to the October 25 Sense of the Meeting Resolution (SOMR) that called upon town leadership to “develop a fiscal policy based on savings and restraint that will control the rate of spending for 2011-12 to lessen the tax burden on Town residents and businesses.” The RTM passed this SOMR by a vote of 135-41-12.
Today is Decision Day for the BET Budget Committee. The budget the 4-member Budget Committee votes on this week (today, or tomorrow if an additional day is needed) will go to the full BET for public hearing on March 29, and on March 31 the full BET will approve the Proposed Budget that goes to the RTM for a vote in May. The RTM may only may only make cuts to this budget, not add.
Proponents of the October SOMR, seeing where the 2012 budget that the BET approves is likely to end up, with a nearly 5% increase in spending and a 2.87% increase in the tax levy, proposed a new SOMR for RTM action next Monday. This new “1% SOMR” essentially calls for a 1% spending cap. It asks that the “total amount to be financed” as shown in the First Selectman’s Proposed Budget for 2011-2012 be increased by no more than 1% over the 2010-2011 final town budget of $340,827,798.
Many people – elected officials, volunteers, staff – have been involved for many months in crafting the budget that the BET Budget Committee will approve this week and the full BET will vote on later this month, after a final public hearing. For the RTM to now call for an impossible and unprecedented 1% spending cap (contractual increases on the town side alone are nearly 3%) is less than helpful.
It is also “out of order” in terms of the budget process. While every effort has been made over the years to make this an ever more transparent process with input from RTM members early on in the process, the prescribed role of the RTM, according to the Town Charter, comes at the end of the process.This is when the RTM votes on the detailed appropriations that the BET proposes as necessary to conduct the affairs of the town. At that time they may vote to cut, or eliminate altogether, any of the appropriations that the BET proposes.
In a memo to the RTM Moderator concerning Item #14 on the RTM’s March Call, the Town Attorney has indicated that the town’s Law Department “has consistently ruled that when the RTM acts on the annual ‘budget’ it acts on specific and separate proposed appropriations each identified by account number.” Citing Article 2, Sec. 23 of the Charter, he writes that “if the RTM is going to act at all on the annual appropriations it cannot do so in a wholesale fashion but must consider each appropriation individually and must make a judgment as to what amount it deems advisable for each particular account.”
In his memo to the Moderator, the Town Attorney writes: “It would be inappropriate and illegal to attempt to amend the Town Charter by virtue of this resolution.” He suggests that the resolution could be rephrased in language that would be in legal order.
Because it was deemed not in legal order, the 1% SOMR was withdrawn, and the Legislative and Rules Committee drafted a Substitute Resolution that it considered to be in legal order, but no Committee of the RTM, including Legislative and Rules, voted this week to put this Resolution forward. So, it appears dead in the water.
Those RTM members who want to reduce spending in the 2011-12 fiscal year to a 1% increase will have their chance at their budget meeting in May. They may propose specific spending cuts to reach this objective. But this is precisely what they have refused to do. One must conclude that they don’t want to take responsibility for drastic cuts in service that the public does not want.