Stratford public schools open for business on Thursday. Unlike any business, however, there is no BOE budget. None. The Board of Education has decided that parents, teachers, students and, oh yeah, taxpayers have no need to know how half of the tax revenue of the Town will be spent. Not a single elected member of the Board of Education or Town Council can provide any information regarding an actual budget or even whether or not one exists. This is astounding, if not illegal.
One would think that a primary function of an elected government would be to, at the very least, explain how the money they are demanding will be spent. The BOE is not a privately held corporation. It may be administered by a non-elected superintendent, but that does not relieve the BOE of the obligation to provide this information to the public. Why do we need to explain this? Apparently because the members of the Board of Education have forgotten this.
This is as bad as stealing $5.6 million from the WPCA. Hold on….maybe it’s worse. We have no idea what the BOE will do with somewhere between $97 – $101 million of our money. It makes Harkins move to extract $5.6 million from the WPCA look like petty theft.
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Budget season is over. Everyone in Town Hall and at the BOE are happy. Well, OK, not so happy if you’re a union member. But nonetheless all the non-union employees are happy. Soon the Council and WPCA (Sewer Plant) will negotiate a $5.2 million sale of Town property. Yes, we know. The WPCA and Town Council are the same people. But we are sure they will negotiate with themselves and come up with a fair amount to steal from taxpayers.
Of course the BOE remains somewhat of a mystery since they have yet to publish an approved budget. We suppose the Superintendent and Board of Education members feel that we have no business knowing how they are spending $97 MILLION of our money allocated by the Republican controlled Council. Maybe they are right? After all, it did not delay for a moment the mailing of tax bills nor did it extend the deadline to pay. The mayor’s opinion is “Just pay it. We’ll tell you later how we spent it…maybe.”
Is anyone protesting any of this? Extracting funds from the WPCA is clearly illegal according to State statute. Has the Attorney General’s office jumped on this? They have certainly been made aware of it. Nope. Not a word. Has anyone on the Council been struck by a stray ethical consideration? Apparently not. Surely the elected Board of Education members are aware that not a single taxpayer has any idea what is happening to nearly half of our yearly tax burden? Who knows?
Who’s fault is all of this? The answer is simple. It is our own fault. We choose to not vote. We choose to ignore budget debates. We choose to drive by Town Hall on our way to shop or desperately hunt for a legal parking space. We choose to skip over anything related to municipal government or education. So as you write your checks this month and place them in the blue envelopes remember that is our own fault that these bills are among the highest in Connecticut.
Filed under: Stratford Political Theater | 10 Comments
Stratford to see 2.8 percent tax increase
Updated 10:47 pm, Wednesday, May 14, 2014
“The parcel with the biggest price tag is 105 Beacon Point Road, adjacent to the Birdseye Street boat ramp. The town hopes to sell it for $5.6 million.” http://www.ctpost.com/local/article/Stratford-to-see-2-8-percent-tax-increase-5478426.php
For those readers who are unfamiliar with 105 Beacon Point Road, that is the address of the WPCA (sewer plant). To be honest, we have resisted the abundant rumors that Harkins wanted to sell off the WPCA (Sewer Plant) for quick cash. We had believed that nobody could be that brazen or, well, dumb. But, sadly, we were wrong.
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Stratford increases spending 6% overall, 2.5% for schools.
By Greg Reilly on May 12, 2014
“The Stratford Town Council at its monthly meeting on May 12 adopted a 2015 operating budget that increases overall spending 6%, increases the mill (tax) rate 2.8%, and increases spending for schools 2.5%.
The approved overall expense budget of $204,231,075 is $48,465 more than Mayor John Harkins has proposed” http://www.stratfordstar.com/21153/stratford-increases-spending-6-overall-2-5-for-schools/
Never mind that funding Town-wide obligations with the sewer use fees is illegal. Never mind that no one has received the kind of raises that Town non-union employees will get. Never mind that no cost cutting measures were even proposed. Never mind that the BOE budget is unreadable. Never mind that property values have decreased. Never mind that the Grand List is flat with no plan to increase it. The Council, to absolutely no one’s surprise, has given Harkins even more than he asked for.
While some homeowners will grumble, take out their checkbooks and just write the check in July, others particularly seniors and working families will feel real pain.
Council elections are a full 18 months away. But you must remember this; The Republican Council voted for these outrageous increases without the slightest objection.
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SIGN THE PETITION:
MOVEStratford Press Release
MOVEStratford Launches Petition Drive Demanding FY2015 Budget Reform
Group wants Stratford citizens to tell their Council Representatives to oppose Mayor Harkins’
tax increases and non-union employees raises
Stratford, CT May 4th
–MOVEStratford announced the next step in the “Budget Reform NOW”
initiative with a petition that asks more citizens to voice their displeasure with the Mayor’s 2015
budget proposal. This petition, available online here demands the following actions by the
• Conduct financial audit of the Water Pollution Control Authority. Make the results of the
audit public to all town citizens.
• Freeze salaries and benefits of all non-union Town employees.
• Freeze the FY2014 mill rate. Implement alternative funding to taxation.
• Require the Mayor’s office to enact fiscal budgetary measures that reduce General Fund
expenditures, except for the BoE 2015 budget.
The Town Council is expected to vote on the 2015 proposed budget on Monday May 12, 2014.
“We have had multiple public hearings over this budget, but neither the Mayor nor the Council
seem interested in answering the hard questions.” says MOVEStratford Director, Henry Bruce.
“This petition is intended to show how much anger and disgust the people have over excessive
taxation for questionable expenditures. No one is getting pay raises over 100% in this economy.
We want transparency and answers now” continues Mr. Bruce.
MOVEStratford lists some of the questions that have gone unanswered since the budget was
announced in March:
• Why have sewer fees more than tripled since FY2002?
• Why does the Water Pollution Control Authority look like a slush fund?
• Why do the people get more taxes and Town Hall gets big raises?
• Why is there no comprehensive economic development plan?
• Why are property values still in the toilet?
For further information about the “Budget Reform NOW” initiative and MOVEStratford, please
go to http://www.facebook.com/MOVEStratford, or follow us on twitter. Direct access to the
petition can be found online here.
MOVEStratford is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving and protecting the
environment, historical landmarks and the integrity and heritage of the town of Stratford. We
are a community advocacy group that works with citizens and other Stratford constituents to
hold our public officials accountable to the people of Stratford, not special interest groups.
Henry Bruce, Director
© Copyright 2014 MOVEStratford May 4, 2014
This is the part where you get to petition the government for the redress of grievances. On the other hand, you can just sit at home and wait for the increased tax bill from the Town and the escrow letter from your mortgage company.
So…unless you are a BOE administrator or a non-union Town employee or not connected to a sewer you should probably be there tonight.
Filed under: Stratford Political Theater | 18 Comments
Six months after Harkins election we finally have his plan for the Town. After reading through the proposed Town and BOE budgets the only conclusion to be reached is that non-union employees are underpaid and that taxpayers can afford to pay much more for the privilege of living here. Obviously, the mayor thinks that all Stratford residents and businesses are doing just as well as he is. After all, he received a 30% raise. It is clear that he thinks all of his non-union hires deserve raises too. Why else would you sell off valuable assets, increase fees, raise taxes and essentially change nothing else except payroll?
Oh sure, there are a few “hidden” old tricks like loading up the WPCA with ridiculous pension cost, transferring expenses from other departments and, well, just taking money. My personal favorites are payroll costs where every member of a department is listed in one lump sum and overtime expense is just ignored. One citizen commented to me that maybe the raises are competitive with what would be paid to a similar private sector employee. It does have a strange logic to it. But alas, we never like to compare apples and oranges. Municipal government is not the private sector. Companies are governed by the marketplace and tend to do those things that are profitable. Municipal governments are governed by ordinance and law and do those things that are required. Companies the size of Stratford’s municipal government answer to shareholders and customers. Sometimes on a monthly basis. When profit does not happen, they cease to exist. Not so in government. There is little to no accountability in government. Especially Stratford’s “strong mayor” government.
We have discussed the plans to sell off valuable (and needed) assets and grant exorbitant raises elsewhere. What we have barely touched upon is the effect it will have on residents and businesses in Stratford. Our first concern is Stratford’s senior population which is comparative large. Senior’s “raises” are calculated in tenths of percentage points. A senior faced with an extra $500+ bill and increased fees will not be able to work a few extra hours of overtime or take a second job. No, they will skip a few meals or not fill a prescription. That’s the only recovery method they have. Our other concern is Stratford’s small businesses. Stratford’s population is stagnant at 51,000. As stated before, Stratford’s land is 98% developed. Small businesses cannot project significant growth in revenue and increasing the tax burden will either drive prices up or force relocation (as we have seen numerous times). There are also our children. We have never heard any argument that increasing the income of administrators leads to a better education.
But perhaps the most harmful effect will be on Stratford’s working families. It is rare to see a household where both parents don’t work. Unless of course, it is a single parent household. What could a family do with $500+ instead of pay taxes with it? Buy food? Clothing? Turn the heat up a bit? Pay down debt? Spend a few dollars at a store in Stratford? But they won’t have that $500+ (We add the “+” sign because they probably have cars too which will be taxed at the higher rate). No, instead they will have to work longer hours or spend less. Either way, it hurts the family and the businesses that depend upon them.
The problem with Harkins plan as described in his budget is that there is only pain and no gain for Stratford taxpayers. And that is not what a “strong” mayor is supposed to do.
Filed under: Stratford Political Theater | 23 Comments
We simply could not let this one go. Recently, Mr. Reilly of the Stratford Star took to writing this piece: Imagine: $1 billion in growth, lower taxes. By Greg Reilly on April 3, 2014 http://www.stratfordstar.com/19360/imagine-1-billion-in-growth-lower-taxes/
We weren’t sure whether to laugh or cry after reading it. For decades now every candidate for anything in Stratford has touted “economic growth” as the way to reduce the tax burden on Stratford residents. After elections of course you never hear that again. Harkins is no exception. This year he is touting a $29 million increase in the Grand List (taxable things). Nice. Except that is only 0.64% growth while he is increasing taxes more than ten times that amount.
The reality for the rest of us is that income and property values have gone down steadily in the last five years while the Town budget has steadily risen. In fact, the only group that hasn’t seen such a decline is every non-union member of the Town or Board of Education. They are doing quite nicely thank you.
Mr. Reilly goes on the say, “Stratford is Stratford. Costs go up, and taxpayers often do not want to give up services to reduce costs.” While the first portion is correct, the latter is not. The correlation between what we pay in Stratford for services and the cost of them is weak at best. We hear this a lot in Stratford. Every time a Council wants to shave a few percentage points from the Board of Education we would hear that the BOE would have to close a school. Similarly, every time the Council wanted a reduction in the Municipal Budget we would be told that solid waste or leaf collection would have to be cut. Sometimes they go so far as to say essential services like the Fire Department would have to be cut. It’s almost as if the end of the world will come if a single penny is left out of the tax bill.
Our favorite comment by Mr. Reilly was this one: “Of course, no two towns are alike, so tax rates would not be expected to be the same.” And yet, every time a non-union salary goes up or a “fee” is increased it always because some other towns are paying higher fees/salaries for the same job title (but not the same job description) or service. Never mind about actual costs. See the WPCA budget.
But the best line was saved for Mayor Harkins. ““The key to tax stabilization is to create a welcoming and customer-friendly environment for local businesses to grow and new businesses to relocate,” the mayor said.” That is completely false. The key to tax stabilization is for the RTC mayor and Council to act responsibly and treat tax dollars as if they were ours instead of theirs. The first thing to do is to start accounting for our money with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles instead of the “whatever” method.
Mr. Reilly’s position, of course, is that the Town Budget must be increased because $1 billion in the growth of the Grand List is impossible. Thus he justifies Harkins’ increase in our tax burden. While we agree that $1 billion in growth is not a reasonable expectation, we do not agree that nothing else can be done.
Filed under: Stratford Political Theater | 74 Comments
Tags: Greg Reilly
“STRATFORD — Many longstanding issues are finally being resolved and the town’s grand list is growing, Mayor John Harkins told local officials and business owners…In the last year, the town’s grand list grew by $29 million and is poised to grow even further with new projects coming up.” http://www.ctpost.com/local/article/Harkins-touts-building-projects-grand-list-5348778.php#photo-6072108
$29 million? Out of $4.5 BILLION the year before? Does anyone realize that if this $29 million were taxed at the full mill rate, which it is definitely not, that this would only justify a $1 million increase in taxes? Certainly not the $11.5 million Harkins is asking for. Yes, we know some of these big numbers are confusing…maybe even boring…to most readers. But hold on. There’s more.
“And several projects will soon be underway.”
Oh yeah? Like what?
“Town zoning officials recently approved a 45,000-square-foot addition to Connecticut Distributors on Lordship Boulevard”
Isn’t that what Zoning is supposed to do? After all, we are paying the Planning and Zoning Administrator $97,416/year plus full benefits.
“new 500,000-square-foot building of “high-tech flex space for companies” in the Stratford Executive Park, Harkins said.”
Err…isn’t that already there?
“And plans are moving forward on runway safety improvements to Sikorsky Memorial Airport after the Harkins administration reached a deal with Bridgeport officials last year.”
“Deal”? What deal? Oh right, the one were we give Bridgeport more land and make access to 1,400 homes more inconvenient. That deal.
“Point Stratford Renewal, LLC. The development team is seeking both a special taxing district from the state Legislature and a zoning overlay from town officials in order to redevelop the 77-acre “
“Special taxing district” is the way politicians say “tax-free”.
“And a newly created Redevelopment Agency is now working on ways to bring foreclosed and contaminated properties back on the tax rolls.”
This may be my personal favorite. In case anyone hasn’t noticed, it has been a rough few years for many homeowners in Stratford. The result is foreclosed homes. Harkins will begin the process by doling out legal work on the homes to…wait for it…Kevin Kelly and Jackson Associates (Town Attorney Tim Bishop’s former partners). And who will pay these legal fees? Hint: it rhymes with “you and me”. Maybe Harkins will put that in the WPCA budget where he puts everything else.
“Although he made no mention of what next year’s budget would look like when presented next month, Harkins did note there are still challenges lying ahead.”
Challenges? Maybe we could sell off a sewer plant or a few school buildings. Did the reporter not notice that Harkins had already posted the budget on the Town website? You know, the budget with the enormous raises for almost every single non-union Town employee and hikes in the Sewer Use “Fee”? That budget.
“Taxes are always a concern for our residents,” Harkins said. “It is my job as your mayor to always seek ways to better run our government and invest our resources wisely. We will always look for opportunities for our town and question and analyze the way we conduct business and deliver services to the public.”
Well John, taxes are a concern because you keep raising them. We question and analyze the way you conduct business all the time. The results haven’t been so good, have they? Holding up shiny objects to keep our minds off the pain being inflicted becomes less effective if that is your only trick.
Filed under: Stratford Political Theater | 21 Comments
Tags: John Harkins
Harkins looks at 5.7% tax increase
Published 10:00 pm, Wednesday, March 12, 2014
“STRATFORD — Mayor John Harkins said Wednesday that his proposed $204 million operating budget for 2014-15 would raise property taxes by 5.7 percent over what they are now and would increase spending by 6 percent.
The tax increase, significantly greater than what the mayor put on the table a year ago, is badly needed to fund ongoing pension obligations and other critical needs, such as ramped up school security…”
Significantly greater than when he was running for mayor? Although Harkins has not published his complete proposed budget yet, we can assume that our Town Attorney budget will still be in the $2 million range, the Registrars of Voters (if you can find them) will be very happy and those mean old pensioners are to blame.
“Harkins pointed out that all of the services that its residents enjoy — leaf pickup, large item pickup, refuse collection and collection of recyclables — will continue as they have in the past.”
Oh. We see. It’s all the fault of Public Works. We are all spoiled by having our garbage picked up. $204 million for leaf pickup, large item pickup, refuse collection and collection of recyclables.
It’s lucky that Harkins got his 30% raise since taxes are going up a lot. And it will be only three more budgets until taxes don’t go up again.
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On the Town Council Agenda tonight:
8.7 – COMPENSATION FOR OFFICE OF REGISTRAR OF VOTERS
Sponsored by: Honorable. James Connor, Eighth District Council Member
BE IT Hereby Resolved That commencing with the fiscal year 2014 – 2015 and continuing until modified by the Council, the compensation for the Office of Registrar of Voters shall be as follows:
Each Registrar of Voters shall receive compensation for the performance of all his/her duties.
The work week for the Registrar of voters and the assistants, shall consist of 37.5 hours per week for a total of five days, the same as the Town Employees.
The rate for the Registrars shall be $ 34.29 For the assistant the rate shall be $ 18.90
Additional overtime hours will be managed and handled under applicable statutes.
Each Registrar of Voters shall further receive additional benefits during each fiscal year as follows:
(a) two weeks paid vacation consisting of a total of 80 hours for registrars and 62 hours for assistant registrars of paid vacation:
(b) ten days sick leave consisting of a total of 80 of paid sick leave for the Registrars and 64 hours for the assistant registrars of paid sick leave per fiscal year;
(c) 8 hours of pay for each legal holiday, and mandatory closing i.e. snow, hurricane
shut down for which the Town Hall is closed for business;
(d) health insurance coverage, if the Registrar or assistant registrar waives health insurance there will be an annual payout of $ 2,500 dollars opting out of health care, vacation will be in accordance with __________and € One year’s annual salary of life insurance coverage
With thanks to George Mulligan for the heads-up.
$34.29 an hour? For a Registrar? Plus vacation, snow and sick days? Seriously? Are you kidding? And the “qualifications” entirely consist of being the party committee Chairman?
And, oh by the way, we pay a qualified, licensed paramedic who saves your life $21/hour with no vacation, sick or snow days? http://www.townofstratford.com/filestorage/39879/40822/Per_Diem_Paramedic_Job_Posting_%282-2014%29.pdf
Thanks Councilman Connor for being so generous with our money. I am sure you will be able to get your 9-1 vote. It still won’t prevent us from being disgusted.
Filed under: Stratford Political Theater | 38 Comments
Tags: James Connor