The Board of Finance (BoF) has been letting our town down. Instead of fulfilling its fiduciary responsibility to give us an honest budget, it plays games with the numbers, employs ruses, and ignores all but the most minor criticisms of the budget.
What do I mean by "games" and "ruses." Let’s start with one big item, "Capital." This is the money available to pay for equipment and other capital expenditures. Look at these numbers:
2004-5 Bd of Selectmen Budget Request (BoS) $4.9m / 2004-5 BoF Budget $.5m
2005-6 BoS $4m / 2005-6 BoF $.4m
2006-7 BoS $4.2m / 2006-7 BoF $.2m
2007-8 BoS $4.5m / 2007-8 BoF $.6m
Is the First Selectman Charlie Brown to the Board of Finance’s Lucy, having his request for capital expenditures pulled out from under him year after year? No, the trick’s on us. Mr. Kopetz knows his capital request won’t make it into the budget. His request simply allows the BoF (of which he is a full voting member) to look like it’s seriously cutting the Selectmen’s budget every year, when in fact it’s adding in unrequested (yet expected) raises for the First Selectman and his department heads, etc.
And then, usually in August, the Town Meeting is asked to pay for capital equipment that was taken out of the budget. This year, the BoF argued that it was all emergency purchases and couldn’t wait for the budget, even though the Fire Department had been asking for a new emergency vehicle for years.
And then there’s the intentional underfunding of budget items. Year after year, such budget items as energy costs, repair and maintenance, and overtime are significantly underbudgeted, so that the budget is lower than what will actually be spent.
To allow this, revenues from taxes are underestimated. This gives the Kopetz administration extra money in the till to distribute as it chooses, through budget transfers, without the approval of the Town Meeting. And the BoF goes along with this ruse.
How do they move around large amounts of money without our approval? The law says that Town Meeting approval is required for budget transfers of $20,000 or more (excluding those taken out of the contingency fund). Last year the BoF approved 37 transfers each in the amount of $19,999, totaling $739,963. This ruse alone took away the Town Meeting’s right to approve 61% of the total transfers.
But it was more complicated than this. For example, one budget item, garbage tipping fees, underfunded by $75,318, was divided as follows: $20,062 to be approved by the Town Meeting, $19,999 approved by the BoF, and $35,257 funded by the contingency fund. If you don’t follow, it’s because the BoF doesn’t want you to. You’re just a taxpayer, after all.
The games and ruses have to stop. The BoF has to hold a special meeting, apologize to the people of this town, and get down to work giving us an honest budget. It also needs to insist on the true competitive bidding of every contract over $1,000 (as required by the Charter), because we have paid millions of extra tax dollars for unbid contracts. Finally, it must make citizen questions and statements part of the meeting, so that they, and the BoF’s responses, are televised.
Not only is the town section of our government budget dishonest, but it is also much higher than Connecticut towns our size that are wealthier than North Haven, as I pointed out at the budget hearing. Until our BoF fulfills its fiduciary duties to us, we must step up to the plate and reject every dishonest budget it presents to us.