Time to ‘walk the walk’

To the Editor:

There’s plenty of talk about Fairfield’s multi-year tax hikes, which have made our town increasingly less affordable and less attractive to home buyers and businesses. But to slow the increase significantly — never mind freezing or cutting — budgets must be reduced substantially more than anything on the table now.

To achieve modest cuts, some on the Board of Education have urged that we trim music, athletics and gifted programs. Such enrichment opportunities produce college scholarships for many, while gifted students, our future leaders, are often underserved. Others say inevitably town services must be reduced. If we start by slicing into the very things that make Fairfield great, we should ask for a zero tax increase.

Instead, why not cut expenses through proactive early union contract negotiations (rather than retroactive ones); trim non-essential administrative, secretarial and consultant employees, implementing town/education synergies via shared staffing and data? As the highest paid town employee with the lion’s share of taxes — BOE employee costs are 80.6% of its nearly $156 million budget — school superintendent Dr. David Title should lead with innovative solutions .

We legislators must do our part too. It’s up to the RTM to spend taxes wisely. We can fix a flawed capital bonding process — costing about $26 million in bond interest alone this year on borrowed funds for building projects, environmental remediation and large equipment purchases not covered in the budget. Once bonding is approved, the town is locked into the project, warts and all, at a specified cost based on plugged-in estimates, rather than documented histories or competitive bidding. Last month, we questioned items which seemed worthy but insufficiently planned, costed out and protected against future liabilities.

John Mitola posed a key question on the RTM floor, which I followed up in writing. We’ve been told repeatedly that no contractor would bid on a project unless bonding was appropriated beforehand. I asked if this cart-before-horse process was legally required, and if so what was the specific law or charter provision cited? Was it a prerequisite of applying for state or other grants but not otherwise required by law? In this recession economy it doesn’t make sense. As a cost of doing business, contractors should be happy to compete for our sizable capital projects and good payment record. Until we have answers enough to vote responsibly, the RTM should say no. Let’s spend time before money. We vote March 18. It’s time to walk the walk.

 

Ellen Jacob

Fairfield RTM D-9

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