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 | 10 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 | 67 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 | 20 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.
Filed under: Stratford Political Theater | 40 Comments
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
And so it begins. Congressional mid-term elections are coming and there is no way that we will be able to avoid the absolute crap that will come out of candidates mouths and press releases. Like most avalanches it starts small:
“The U.S. federal government has “way, way, way too much debt,” Brown told The Stratford Star in an interview Jan. 31.” http://www.stratfordstar.com/17137/bunnell-coach-aims-to-take-on-delauro-and-national-debt/
James E. Brown has declared that he is “standing up” to Rosa DeLauro (D, 3rd District) to challenge her for the right to represent us in the House of Representatives. Like most GOP candidates, Mr. Brown believes that repealing or not passing legislation is effective government. But, like most Republicans, he is shocked at the amount of the national debt the Republicans created. (Remember the massive tax cuts for the wealthy and conducting two wars? We won’t even mention the deregulation of the financial industry.)
“He believes that overspending in Congress and the national debt result in part because there are no term limits in Congress.”
Which would only take a Constitutional Amendment to change. That would require 38 State Legislatures to approve. So, moving on….
But Mr. Brown is an educator so maybe his position on education is relevant?
“Discussion about education at the federal level is not about education in the classroom, he said. It is about money and measuring rates of so-called success.”
There are no Federal teachers or principals. Not even a superintendent. There are about 14,000 separate and independent School Districts in the U.S. The federal government provides limited funding to each. From time to time the Federal Government sets criteria to receive this funding. If you do not like the criteria the choice is always to stop accepting the funds.
“All need the basics to sixth grade or so, but does Stratford need the same education as Alaska, Idaho and Texas?”
We must admit that we have no idea what this means. We certainly hope Mr. Brown means that Stratford students receive at least as much education as students in Alaska, Idaho and Texas. And we certainly hope he does not mean we should stop educating Stratford students after grade 6.
Sadly, these are the milder issues Mr. Brown puts forward. The rest of his agenda is much more radical and extreme. http://jamesbrownforcongress.org/James_Brown_For_Congress/The_Issues.html
We were kind of hoping for some actual discussion rather than the boulders that roll down Bullshit Mountain.
Filed under: Stratford Political Theater | 10 Comments
“Chief of Staff Marc Dillon said…We are always looking at any ways to get revenue except from taxpayers.” http://www.stratfordstar.com/16572/town-explores-offseting-water-plant-cost/
Here’s a thought, Marc. Why not stop transferring $1.4 million from the Water Pollution Control Authority to the General Fund? That kinda makes the “fee” a tax wherein users subsidize everyone else. And, oh by the way, isn’t this the same mayor and Chief of Staff that raised the sewer use “fees” 37%?
But wait, there’s more!
“According to Dillon, the purpose of any possible new arrangement with the WPC facility would be to offset the town’s expenses related to the recently upgraded water treatment facility…”
Recent? Can we get a definition of “recent” please? Wasn’t that a mayor or so ago?
But if we act now we can also get a whole new entity that we cannot control at all!
“One would be leasing the facility to a private entity that would operate it.”
Sometimes what comes out of Town Hall is the same thing that goes into the WPCA.
Filed under: Stratford Political Theater | 28 Comments
Tags: Marc Dillon
“…we believe that in these economic times it will be very difficult to raise the funds in the short term to pursue ACG’s vision of a multi-purpose theatre facility. At the present time there is little, if any, interest in pursuing the theatre renovation…” and “…A new theatre, no matter how large or small, cannot exist without a donor base to make it financially viable…” http://www.stratfordstar.com/15982/shakespeare-theatre-task-force-says-no-to-major-renovation-yes-to-continuing-outdoors/
It is quite clear that the highly taxed residents of Stratford have little or no interest in spending any more of their hard earned income on this theater. In fact, that has been the case since this theater opened. It is time that we admit that Andy Hardy is not going to put on a show that will save the day. Promises of marginally increased traffic and perhaps a few extra dollars of pizza and sandwich sales are not going to be enough to convince any voter that their tax bill should go up even more than it inevitably does.
Unless some private entity comes along with a very large check and an actual account with sufficient funds to cover it, let’s all agree to let the ghosts of past performances rest in peace.
Filed under: Stratford Political Theater | 18 Comments
Tags: Matt Catalano
We are now officially a one party town. The Democratic Town Committee was run out of Town on Election Day. With the lone exception of Stephanie Phillips, third district (or is it second dictrict?) councilperson who ran unopposed, not a single Democrat was elected to an office. Even Ms. Phillips might have lost if the RTC could have found a candidate.
It is hard to imagine a clearer message from voters than Tuesday’s results. Stratford voters want none of what the DTC has to offer. It is not as if the Republican Town Committee has a better plan or message either because clearly they have none. Neither the RTC Chairman Lou Decilio nor Mayor Harkins has ever offered any commitment to anything. “Civility” doesn’t count. When you run a civil government you are supposed to be…well…civil.
The problem therefore is not that the RTC has programs and plans that voters prefer. The problem is the Democratic Town Committee itself. The DTC at this point (having already landed at the bottom of the cliff) must start over from scratch. That should begin with new leadership. Sometimes voters have long memories. The DTC simply cannot have the same old Miron cronies running the DTC. It is ridiculous to assume that voters do not understand that the current DTC Chairman was the Town Attorney for Miron and is simply waiting for another chance at the $1.8 million (it was $2.3 million during his tenure) Town Attorney budget.
The Democratic Town Committee lacks any credibility at all. The RTC knows this, businesses know this and, most importantly, voters know this. So our message to the DTC leadership if they haven’t gotten it already is to collect all the losing lawn signs, write your letters of resignations and step away from the political process. Do it now before anyone else gets hurt.
Filed under: Stratford Political Theater | 47 Comments
“The mayor said the site will eventually see a “mixed-use” development…the property will gradually become transformed into an attractive and “vibrant” part of town with a greenway, hotel, apartments, retail outlets and other amenities.”
Whoa! Hold on there, Buckaroo!
Hotel? Apartments? If you read any one of a number of EPA or consultants’ studies you already know that no one recommends spending more than a few hours on this property. As far as “residential” the only word used in that regard was “never”. There is a reason the U.S. Government has restricted access to this property.
So let’s take a breath here. Yes, it is a good thing that this liability is off the Federal Government’s books. But “vibrant” will probably not happen for many, many years. In fact, by the time “greenway, hotel, apartments, retail outlets and other amenities” happen, no one will remember who was mayor when the GSA sold the property.
Filed under: Stratford Political Theater | 5 Comments