Budget Stories

30Jun15
Taxpayer Alert

Taxpayer Alert

Stratford Residents Deserve Much Better

It is time for every single Stratford resident to become aware of the situation concerning the sale of the Stratford sewer treatment plant.  Once residents become engaged they will inevitably come to the sad conclusion that their elected officials have not represented their best interests.

Again the WPCA aka Town Council voted to increase the Sewer fees to $450 /household with the weak excuse that it is still lower than Trumbull.  In just a few short years Stratford residents have seen their sewer treatment bills go from $280 to $450 – a 61% increase.  Annual sewer rates in Milford are $298.44 and Shelton $198.00; both have sewer facilities and infrastructure needs similar to Stratford.  Common sense says Stratford can do better.  Maybe those Stratford council members hope to push the public to sell the plant – who knows?

A key reason our sewer fees are so much higher is because they are based on grossly inflated costs.  During Mayor Harkins’ tenure the Town Council has decided to charge the WPCA $600,000 for use of the land the treatment plant sits on, $300,000 for bookkeeping and administrative expenses, and $500,000 for public works services.  The effect is to transfer $1.4 million annually from town expenses to sewer expenses.  This means that town residents are now paying higher sewer fees instead of property taxes. The net effect is a second tax on Stratford residents. Your elected representatives may argue that it makes no difference, but remember that property taxes are deductible while sewer fees are not.

Another thing that should concern every Stratford resident is the hundreds of thousands of dollars expended on legal fees. Each year from 2013 – 2016 almost $500,000 has been added to the WPCA budget Contractual Services line that we now learn was for legal expenses. This year the Harkins administration has waged a costly court battle to prevent citizens from exercising their right to vote in a referendum on the sewer sale, and lost every court case and appeal along the way.  Scratch below the surface, it gets worse.  By what authority was that money spent?  Neither the Town Council nor the WPCA voted to authorize the expenditure of these funds.  How can the town or the WPCA proceed with court actions that were never authorized by a vote of the people’s representatives?

It is time that the Harkins administration stood up to protect the residents of Stratford.  Mayor Harkins and his council members are responsible for this mess and must be held accountable. Selling a significant town asset for pennies on the dollar to plug a budget hole is not the solution.  The Town Council should set a date for the people of Stratford to vote on this issue and immediately release all documents so residents can inform themselves.  That is the purest form of democracy, and it is a shame that so much time, effort, and the people’s money has been wasted trying to prevent it from happening.

Stephanie Philips

3rd District Town Council Member

Submitted to Stratford Star, and CT Post.  6/28/2015

 Reprinted here with no edits and no one’s permission.


Stratford Mayor-visual approximation

Stratford Mayor-visual approximation

Step 1: Find a journalist that will print anything you say without question.

Step 2: Say that the world will come to an end unless you raise taxes and fees.

Step 3: Deny any responsibility by blaming someone else

Step 4: Blame “they” or “them” for layoffs, service cuts, higher taxes and anything else you can think of.

Step 5: Try to look like you’re doing the right thing by making the entire population suffer the consequences of your blundering.


Mayor Repellent

Mayor Repellent

The citizens of Stratford won a victory yesterday with Judge Bellis’ decision to order the Town Clerk to accept the voter’s petition. While it is indeed a victory reaffirming that the right to vote exists even in Stratford, it is a sad victory. Our mayor, Town attorney and seven members of the Town Council believed that they, and only they, had the authority to decide everything for themselves without the participation of the residents and voters of Stratford.

They were wrong.

What is sad and unfortunate for us is that they really believed they could get away with it. Particularly Mayor John Harkins and Town Attorney Tim Bishop (neither of whom had the guts to show up in court, by the way). Harkins went so far as to threaten Town Clerk Susan Pawluk with immediate termination if she accepted the 6,000+ signature petition. Tim Bishop actually believed that a single unrelated sentence in a single paragraph in the entire collection of Connecticut State Statutes would eliminate our First Amendment rights. They really thought no one would care or have the energy to defend our right to vote.

They were wrong.

The seven members on the Council who blithely went along with whatever Harkins wanted no matter what it cost the taxpayer or how negatively it would impact the Town in the future thought they could just vote quietly and be done with it. Some of them even signed the petition so they could claim both positions if they were ever questioned. They truly thought no one would notice how they voted.

They were wrong.

Now it is up to us to make sure that this effort does not go wasted. Surely this mayor and these councilmen will have something else planned that will thwart the will of the people. We must continue to pay attention, act and most importantly, vote. We must do this because

We are right.


Transparent Message

Transparent Message

In a stunning denial of any belief in democracy, Mayor John Harkins rejected out of hand the voters right to petition the government. We have been commenting upon Town politics for nearly ten years. That is a lot of slime and muck to wade through. But we have never witnessed such a blatant disregard for the will of the voter, taxpayers and businesses in Stratford. Never.

To review, Harkins had conducted a secret negotiation with Greater New Haven WPCA to sell our WPCA to them for $11 million. Oh, you will hear lots of different numbers coming out of Town Hall. $16 million, $37 million, pick a number. It doesn’t matter. The deal is $11 million for a $100 million asset plus $10 million per year to Greater New Haven WPCA in revenue. That’s the deal.

Unfortunately for Harkins, he couldn’t just sell it with his signature alone. He needed some weak and stupid councilmen to go along with his plan and sell out Stratford residents. Turns out they were pretty easy to find. Gavin Forrester (R), Joseph Kubic (R), Peter Massey, (R), Brian Dempsey, (R), Ken Poisson (R), James J. Connor, Jr. (R) and Jason W. Santi (D). A little arm twisting from Lou Decilio and Harkins had seven easy votes. But it was a public vote. On the record. That’s when voters became irate. Quite a few in fact.

Nearly 7,000 registered voters (more actually than ever voted for Harkins) signed the petition to stop the sale of our WPCA and let the voters decide on election day whether or not it should be sold.

Let’s make no mistake here. What Harkins did yesterday is send a clear message to every resident of Stratford that they do not have the right to vote on Town issues and that furthermore our right to petition the government as specified in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution is null and void within the Stratford Town limits.

This, my neighbors, is outrageous!


Smear Campaign

30Apr15

Stratford Politics

Stratford mayor: critics waging ‘smear campaign’
John Burgeson

Updated 11:13 pm, Wednesday, April 29, 2015

“The group seeking to scuttle the sale of the waste treatment plant on Birdseye Street is dealing in half-truths and staging a “smear campaign,” according to Mayor John Harkins.” http://www.ctpost.com/local/article/Stratford-mayor-critics-waging-smear-campaign-6231794.php

We are amazed at our great good fortune. We have been treated to several statements lately from Harkins/Decilio that have appeared in the friendly and uncritical local print media. We, of course, will analyze the statements in detail below.

However, we would take a moment here and discuss the purpose of municipal government. This mayor has stated repeatedly that Stratford should not be in the “business” of waste water treatment. We ask, why not? How dissimilar is it from solid waste management. Does that go next? How about fire protection, traffic control, crime, emergency medical services or education? Should municipal government be in those “businesses” either? Why do we need municipal government at all? According to Harkins, we don’t. We as residents will be much better off if private corporations sold us these services for profit. That way we could “vote” by refusing to “buy” these services. We could just let our houses burn down because Fire Department Inc., charges way too much. Or we could refuse to use Stratford EMS Corp because maybe the heart attack will just get better on its own.

An herein lies the problem. Once we sell off municipal services, in this case to the lowest bidder, there will be nothing like the competition that exists in a retail market. The rate we pay will be whatever the company says we pay.


It's your right. Use it when you want.

It’s your right. Use it when you want.

Calling All Volunteers!! VOLUNTEER RALLY
WHEN: Wednesday April 22nd, 7:30-9:00pm
WHERE: Baldwin Center
WHO FOR: For all fully engaged and all who want to be part of the action
WHAT WILL I GET: Volunteer training, information sharing and networking
WHY SHOULD I COME: So many of you have been so successful in just 4 days. Learn all the best practices, tips and techniques for maximizing your time in getting friends, neighbors and fellow citizen to sign the referendum petition.
This is a can’t miss event for all working to make this referendum petition drive a success. We had a huge weekend and expect the next two weeks to put us over the top and reach our goals.
As always, let us know how we can support you and your teams.
Let’s make it happen!!

It doesn’t get more basic than this. There is probably a good reason the right to petition the government is right up there in the very first amendment. Here’s a good reason; the seven councilmen who voted in favor selling our WPCA/Sewer Plant for no benefit to Stratford residents at all do not care anything about their constituents. This couldn’t be more obvious.

In case anyone has forgotten, these seven Councilmen are:

Gavin Forrester (R)
Joseph Kubic (R)
Peter Massey, (R)
Brian Dempsey, (R)
Ken Poisson (R)
James J. Connor, Jr. (R)
Jason W. Santi (D)

Signing the petition is a unique opportunity. It is a voter’s chance to make it clear that Stratford residents pay attention and care about what their municipal government does with our money. To be sure, all ten council members should have stood up to their Mayor and Town Committee Chairman and voted to put the sale of a $100 million asset and ongoing payments up to the voters and residents of Stratford. But they did not.

Now we must.


Stratford Resident

Stratford Resident

In one of the worst financial deals imaginable, the Mayor and Council have sold out each and every Stratford resident and business. During one of the most important votes in the 375 year history of Stratford, some Councilmen could barely be heard mumbling “aye” to sell the WPCA/Sewer plant for peanuts. Thankfully, these votes are recorded so that we can identify precisely who sold us out.

John Harkins (R)
Gavin Forrester (R)
Joseph Kubic (R)
Peter Massey, (R)
Brian Dempsey, (R)
Ken Poisson (R)
James J. Connor, Jr. (R)
Jason W. Santi (D)

The refrain used most often by the mayor and these councilmen is that it would relieve $37 million of debt. It is not often that we have the opportunity to print something so definitively on these pages, but that statement is a lie. There simply is no other way to put it. A lie is a lie.

We are not relieved of anything. The $37 million will be paid by Stratford residents and businesses and by no one else. We assume there will be a large celebration at the Greater New Haven Water Pollution Control Authority since our mayor and council have voted to pretty much pay them to take our property.

We can’t guess what would motivate these eight people to sell us out so completely. It is certainly not the benefit of Stratford.


WPCA Tool

WPCA Tool

“To regionalize is by far the best benefit for the taxpayers,” Harkins said.
http://www.stratfordstar.com/34630/residents-not-supportive-of-proposed-wpca-regionalization/

We have to admit that it doesn’t sound like “abracadabra” or “voila!”, but it means the same thing.

Nothing, and we do mean nothing, Harkins has said or written contains the slightest hint of benefit for Stratford taxpayers and residents. In fact, his own numbers suggest an extremely negative impact of the future of Stratford.

But let’s review this just one more time. We will type this real slow so that even Council members can follow this.

We (you & me) own a sewer plant that is worth at least $61 million. We use this number because that was the actual cost of the upgrade of the plant. The plant, of course, is currently worth much more than that. Some suggest upwards of $100 million if it were to be built new. Possibly more.

So far, sewer users have paid off $24 million of the bond debt (plus interest). Stratford taxpayers have paid zero.

The sewer plant receives approximately $10 million per year in revenue. Actually a bit more than that.

The mayor and council siphon $2.5 million of that to pay Town-wide expenses like pensions or just deposit it in the General Fund to be used for “whatever”.

So, how much does the sewer plant cost the Stratford taxpayers? The answer is literally “nothing”. Stratford taxpayers actually benefit thanks to their neighbors who pay fees to use the sewer.

Which brings us to Harkins’ plan. He would like to sell the sewer plant for $11 million in cash as well as payments in lieu of taxes of between $200,000 and $420,000. That is more than a 100% differential. That means Harkins doesn’t know what the payments would be. And then there is the assumption of $37 million in existing debt (We’ll come back to this later).

On it’s face, this deal is crazy. We are going to sell something we’ve already paid $24 million for a measly $11 million? And instead of $2.5 million/year we’ll get some unknown amount between $200,000 and $420,000? In addition to this “deal” we lose control of whatever happens to the sewer plant as well as its necessary infrastructure. We’ll get 2 votes out of 13. Or is it 2 votes of of 11 on some board? Why does that sound better than 10 out of 10?

But wait! There’s more! If we act right now the Greater New Haven Water Pollution Control Authority will assume the remaining $37 million bond debt! Does anyone actually think they will write a check to the bond holder? Silly taxpayer. No, they will use our sewer fees to pay off the remaining balance. Just like we would have done. Plus they will need to make a profit for their members. This is done by raising our fees. Wait, you say? We have “influence on the Board”! The fees in Stratford will go up by a vote of 11 to 2.

Why, you might ask, would anyone question Harkins on any of this? To Harkins the answer is obvious: “…the people protesting the deal were part of “an organized moment” in the Democratic Party to make the proposal into an election issue.”

Wait! There are organized Democrats in Stratford? Where? You’re kidding, right?

And speaking of an election issue…what issue? Harkins is mayor for another 2.5 years. Or is he?

When we are talking about the sale of $100+ million in Taxpayer assets the only reasonable option is a Town-wide referendum to let the owners (us) decide.


Budget Time

23Mar15
Time to Change Methods. It's a Brick Wall, Silly.

Time to Change Methods. It’s a Brick Wall, Silly.

Both the Town and the BOE proposed budgets have been released.

BOE Budget: http://stratfordk12.org/images/customer-files//2015.16ItemizedEstimateofExpenditures3.2.2015.pdf

Town Budget: http://www.townofstratford.com/filestorage/39879/43107/66139/Operating_Budget.pdf

As we will see in coming posts, no effort has been made by anyone to save the taxpayer anything. None at all. If you are looking for significant reductions you certainly won’t find them in either budget. You will have similar disappointment when you look for clear data or explanations. In fact, some of the explanations we’ve heard in the “press” are pretty funny. Well, they would be funny if they didn’t cost us so much. Recently the Mayor Harkins released a statement advising us that, due to revaluation, we’ve lost a significant amount of value in the properties we (you and me) own. But, according to the mayor, that’s okay. Don’t worry about that because he’ll raise the mill rate to adjust for that! Everyone that is not in a union and works for the Town or BOE can still get a raise.


The Stratford Version

The Stratford Version

The latest ploy by our Council Chairman and mayor was to conduct “Executive Sessions” of the Town Council/WPCA (They are the same thing, you know.) out of view of the public to decide whether to steal $5 million from the WPCA cash reserve or to just sell the most expensive asset the Town owns.

Both items raise serious questions about fiscal management. The first question is how did $5.2 million accumulate in a cash reserve? That seems like a whole lot of money for a $10 million operation. We can think of no business that keeps 52% of it’s entire budget in a “cash reserve”. Then there are the stories filtering out of Town Hall that the WPCA is losing money. Losing money? How can that be? There is certainly enough on hand to siphon $1 million of the WPCA budget to pay Town-wide pension obligations (which is totally illegal), subsidize Public Works (also illegal), pay the Town $600,000/year in “rent” (illegal as well) and oh yeah, fork over $300,000/year (really illegal) to the Town’s General Fund. Maybe that’s why the WPCA is “losing” money?

But the second item on the agenda is the sale of the whole thing to some random corporation which goes by the name of “regionalization”. A very conservative estimate of the actual sale value of such a facility would be well north of $100 million ($100,000,000). Why on Earth would we do that? Honestly, we have no idea. No one does except Harkins. The point here though is that the WPCA is not owned by John Harkins. The owners of the WPCA are you and me. Why are we not involved in this decision? If a For Sale sign appeared in your front yard, you would certainly want to know why it was put there and who did it. In “Executive Sessions” we are not entitled to participate or even know who voted yes or no.

We demand public hearings and a referendum on the matter.




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