Balance? What Balance?

17Apr14
Net Income

Net Income

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.

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23 Responses to “Balance? What Balance?”

  1. I totally agree with you on this, but what are the people of Stratford supposed to do? It is obvious that low voter turn out re-elected Harkins, those of us who actually voted are the only ones who have the right to complain. There is proof that privatization of public services are a complete disaster in communuties that move to it.

  2. 2 Rockannand

    I wonder what Grover Norquist would say? Think that Harkins and his attack dog RTC Registrar/RTC Chair/Campaign manager would be invited to Grover’s weekly breakfasts with 20%+ tax increases since the 1st budget 4 eyars ago?? Hmmmmmm?

    Hey Camaroguy, its simple. Since their is zero leadership by anyone the affliated with the RTC and our two Republican State Reps, the time is ripe for someone to emerge. As i am fond of quoting often, “Among the blind the one-eyed is KING!.” This mayor and his yapping RTC chair fall somewhere in between the two. The voters need a champion they can believe in and follow. Those people out there, but they are sitting on the sidelines for the most part.

    Unfortunately the DTC is just as clueless and unmotivated. The only thing the new DTC chairman knows how to do is write letters to Greg Reilly about Jason Santi and Joe Paul. I know too many long-time repubs who did not vote for Harkins. They want to support Joe, but still don’t enough about him to trust yet. I think the DTC did Joe a favor by dissing, not once, not twice, but three times. Some of the people i mention above who are sitting on the sideline have no had it with the DTC rulers who are equally NOT focused on the needs of the town, but their own needs.

    Whoever emerges as the one-eyed King, will have to the stomach and backbone to take on the police and fire union over these absurdly lavish pensions that keep being handed out as if the town treasury were the money tree. That is job #1 because this mayor has not come close to solving the unfunded pension money drain is killing Stratford financially.

    And before the police and fire retirees start having a hissy fit here, show me other towns that count as much questionable overtime towards their pension calculation the way Stratford has for far too long. Its a luxury we cannot afford and that this mayor is afraid to deal with.

  3. 3 1cyclops

    Jezebel,

    You sound like the budget has been approved, as presented. It hasn’t, has it? Have some faith in the people – it’s not over yet!

  4. 4 jezebel282

    Cyclops,

    “Have some faith in the people”

    Nothing this Council has done is increasing my faith.

  5. 5 jezebel282

    Rock & Cam;

    But for Harkins loading up the WPCA with non-related expenses, our sewer use fees would actually go down. And significantly.

    The problem is not necessarily the pensions (bulking them up with O/T is another topic). The problem has been the underfunding by numerous Councils of the pension obligations.

    The long term solution for residents is to realize that concentrating all of the power in Town in one office (the mayor) is a serious mistake. But first, citizens must realize that the thing that effects their mortgage, rent and education the most is Stratford Town Government and elections. No other election has such a direct effect on our wallets and purses.

  6. 6 1cyclops

    . . . . . . . . and no other election can the citizens most control the outcome and take charge of the community’s government with its participation . . . . . . . . .

  7. 7 Rockannand

    No i am not saying the budget as submitted is a done deal, but they will now scale some of the salaries from outrageous (25%) to ridiculous (10-15%) and use money saved for BoE stuff, stick with 5.7% tax increase and call it a day. They wont tackle the hard stuff of pensions that include OT and our heavy overhead across all departments in govt including BoE. They wont touch the outside counsel (300% higher than all other towns). It was a sad turnout (less than 50 people each night). There just was not enough anger form enough people to sway them to really take action.

  8. 8 jezebel282

    Maybe they were too busy working their second jobs?

  9. 9 jezebel282

    Rock,

    “There just was not enough anger”

    As we had predicted, the bulk of the attendees were parents who somehow equate higher administrator salaries with better education.

    It is obvious that not a single parent read through the BOE budget. If they did, they would have been sitting on those hard benches scratching their heads. Maybe they might even wonder why the lowest paid assistant principle gets $108,000/year (plus benefits) while only $380 is allocated for a kindergarten class for the whole year.

  10. 10 Rockannand

    If you do the math by taking the town hall and BoE admin overhead salaries together with the excessive OT in the pensions and scale back to “normal” levels, you would more than cover the tax increase for 2015. I have not done the math yet for Town Hall positions added and salaries since the switch to mayoral govt, but i will go out on a limb and say we grew administration without any added value.

    Since i was not here in 2004-2005, can someone explain what the rational was for changing the charter? Why did we think we needed a mayor? WHo drove the change? I bet it wasn’t “the people”.

  11. 11 1cyclops

    Rock,

    You bet correctly. It was the initiative of then Republican councilman Jennifer M.F. Hillgen now known as Hillgen-Santa. And it was specifically to explore amending the town’s form of government.

  12. 12 Rockannand

    Thanks 1cyc. Another false comparison that did not occur to me until i saw BoE budget was who (other towns/districts) we use for comparisons purposes. Obviously politicians use what serves their purpose/agenda. IN the case of BoE they use the DRG (District Reference Group – Group G) classifications system that was adopted state wide in 2006. Its based on 7 variables – Income, Education (parents), Occupation, Family Structure, Poverty, Home language and District Enrollment. (see link for bulletin:http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/lib/sde/PDF/EvalResearch/DRG_2006.pdf)

    Towns like Hamden, Manchester, East Haven, Bristol, Naugutuck, etc. The #1 driver that determines what group your in is income level which means the town’s ability to pay for services and school budget.

    But when it comes to what we use to compare for salaries, positions for town govt, we use towns with income levels 50-100% higher, not the ones we are more like in terms of make up, etc. The mayor’s budget makers when justifying the salary levels and hours for the registrars’ office used towns like Fairfield, Shelton, Trumbull. I have not looked at the budget numbers for those town’s in the same DRG Group with similar size pops and school enrollment, but i would guess that their taxes are lower and staffing is much lower and pension obligations lower too.

    NOw i found this info over the weekend in about an hour of finding and reading, but the great journalists at the local papers have not done ANY digging into the claims to call into question what’s going on here.

  13. 13 1cyclops

    There is no mayoral staff person with the ability to perform a fair & balanced job study. They simply compared Stratford with other staff and offices in Fairfield county. A fatal flaw for the taxpayers. A professional person would have had made bench mark comparisons to determine a salary scale. Another question that comes to mind is are these new salary increases 8-45% accompanied with new salary ranges? Are these employees getting these raises and also entitled to climb additional steps over a period of time? No one will tell us, this is absolutely outrageous and all of them should be thrown out of office for allowing it. And the staff personnel person whom I assume was Ronald Ing who conducted this study should be fired, immediately.

  14. 14 jezebel282

    Cyclops,

    “It was the initiative of then Republican councilman Jennifer M.F. Hillgen now known as Hillgen-Santa.”

    You are correct in that Ms. Hillgen-Santa had first proposed the idea. But her idea was quickly perverted by the Republican Town Committee who saw an opportunity to seize control of the Town. It should be noted that Hillgen-Santa spent a great deal of time and energy researching Municipal government in Connecticut and, as I believe, wanted effective and representative government. We cannot lay this disaster upon her alone.

    To be sure, it was not ever a fairytale Town government. You have always had the Debbie Rose’s, Norm Aldrich’s and Chuck Willinger’s to suck the Town dry. The Charter revision to a “strong” mayor form of government didn’t stand a chance….until the Town Council voted to eliminate leaf collection. That did it for most residents. They had simply had had enough and voted by an ever so slim majority to invoke the changes.

    Even that did not go as the RTC had planned. Instead of naming a viable candidate for the first mayoral office, they chose Dom Costello who proceeded to dumb down the election immediately. Worse yet, the RTC was further split by Jon Best who decided, after being rejected by the RTC, to run as an independent. Having split the field, enter James R. Miron who only had to promise not to change anything. Of course, he completely lied about that, but managed to win with only 34% of the vote. (See “plurality”).

    The sad truth is that Stratford has always been under the thumbs of the RTC & DTC. The difference then was that , at least operationally, the Town was professionally run and managed. In all of these years since not a single valid complaint has been heard about the performance of Mark Barnhardt, Mike Feeney or Ben Branyan.

  15. 15 jezebel282

    Rock,

    There are many, many problems with the way Stratford has implemented a mayoral form of government. Why, we ask ourselves, did it go South and so quickly?

    One key answer is the concentration of power. Almost all political and operational power in Stratford rests in the hands of a mayor. It is even more concentrated when that mayor controls a 9-1 majority of an eviscerated Council. There is simply no downside for a Stratford mayor. He violates the Charter? Oh well. He misappropriates funds? So? He negotiates in bad faith? What else do you have? He appoints incompetent people? What do you expect? He fails to abide by contracts? So sue him?

    The current Charter lacks any sort of check & balances. Miron was correct in one thing and he shouted it in the corridors of Town Hall; “I’m the f*****g mayor! I can do whatever I want!”. He was right.

    The Charter sets up an an Emperor with no regard for his fashion sense. Literally everyone in Town Hall with any authority is appointed by and serves at the pleasure of the mayor. Who in their right (financial) mind in Town Hall would tell a mayor he’s full of crap? No one that needs a paycheck & benefits, that’s for sure. “Your new clothes look fabulous, Emperor.”

    Will going back to a Town Manager solve everything? No. Will continuing with a “strong” mayor eventually pay off? Not likely. Ultimately, it is up to the shareholders (that would be us) to decide the future direction of Stratford. You never get what you deserve. You get what you vote for.

  16. 16 jezebel282

    Rock,

    One more thing…writing for a local paper (The Star or the Post) does not make you a journalist. The last journalist in town, Rich Weizel, was fueled by passion and ire. He certainly didn’t do it for the money. For the pittance these writers get what more can you expect other than providing an outlet for the press releases they receive from Town Hall ? What kind of time could they afford to do actual research and conduct interviews?

    One might argue that presenting both sides of a controversial argument would increase their circulation (and ad rates) but that would take foresight. Besides, it might reduce the number of readers here.

    LOL!

  17. 17 1cyclops

    Jezebel,
    The difference then was that , at least operationally, the Town was professionally run and managed. In all of these years since not a single valid complaint has been heard about the performance of Mark Barnhardt, Mike Feeney or Ben Branyan.

    So true.

    Barnhart, Feeney & Branyan were learned professionals who managed accordingly. And, during their combined tenures there were never EVER pay increases to non-union staff in the ridiculous 8-45% category as now proposed by this “strong” mayor. And, during their combined tenures the economy was booming.
    Has anyone ever pulled out, dusted off and reviewed the “executive pay for performance plan” instituted by Barnhart and carried forward by his successors, Feeney & Branyan? The non-union employee met with the town manager at year beginning and established mutually agreeable goals for the year. At year’s end, the employee was evaluated by the manager based on these performance goals. He then decided on a pay increase. If you received a satisfactory rating, no increase. Good-anywhere from 0-1%, Very Good-anywhere from 1.1-2%, Excellent, anywhere from 2.1-3%. It should be noted that there was never EVER more than 2% awarded and that was RARE. And, if you received unsatisfactory, you would be placed on suspension and/or terminated.

    What happened to this practice? The council should be asking the mayor about this BEFORE approving his ridiculous salary increases.

  18. 18 1cyclops

    And, defend if you wish Ms. Hillgen-Santa, but if it had not been for her “research of effective municipal government” your words not mine, this would never have been proposed and we would still have a professionally-managed town. In fact, I’m willing to bet Mark Barnhart would still be our town manager and what a town it would be. Mark left immediately after her proposal. in fact, he left without employment. A dedicated person who worked, and I mean worked 24/7 for the town followed by his two successors. It was a shame!

  19. 19 jezebel282

    Cyclops,

    Without the wholehearted support of the rest of the RTC, Hillgen-Santa would have been just another voice in the wilderness. They were so sure they could place an RTC mayor in office.

    But let’s be clear here. All those Councils underfunded pension obligations, subjected us to “mini” taxes and revaluations and allowed “Team Stratford” to delay The Army Engine Plant for decades.

    What saved us for so long given the RTC/DTC shenanigans was the employment of truly professional and dedicated Town Hall staff. And that was due to the highest quality Town Managers.

    None of that, however, helps us now. Now the “strong” mayor is in place with his 9-1 majority and hand picked staff.

  20. 20 1cyclops

    Again, so true and so sad. No where to go but down.

  21. 21 jezebel282

    Cyclops,

    Here is what is sad:

    “I’ve just got to keep getting the word out,” Lauretti said. “Property owners in Shelton have seen their property taxes go down 3.8 percent since 2009. And our standard of living keeps rising.” http://www.ctpost.com/local/article/Lauretti-runs-on-consistent-Shelton-record-5422714.php

    Maybe it is because so many of Stratford’s municipal employees have moved to Shelton and they are well aware what property tax hikes can do to their paychecks?

  22. 22 Rockannand

    Since Lou thinks i am not being transparent, let it be known that I am Henry Bruce. Rockannand has been my social media for 8 years and is the name of my consultancy i have run for over 12 years. http://www.rockannandgroup.com.

    I am also maintain the FORStratford.org Facebook page that I launched in May 2012 when the mayor locked the doors on the theatre. That really pissed me off because Matt and Eddie Goodrich are friends and neighbors and have given countless hours, days and years to the town and that theatre. That was a cowardly thing to do.

    This budget is a naked money grab with that comp plan raise/payoff to DeCilio. I’ll be damned if my $450+ tax raise with this budget is going to go to that bully for a no show job.

  23. 23 jezebel282

    In keeping with the general disregard this administration holds for hard working residents we have this which was forwarded to us by yet another outraged resident:

    “Hello Ricky,

    According to the Stratford Railroad Station Parking Rules posted on the Town of Stratford’s website:

    All who utilize SRRP must park in designated stalls only — not occupying more than one space nor on/over the lines. If there is any doubt, don’t park a vehicle in that spot. Failure to park properly in a stall will result in a $25.00 fine and/or revocation of current permit status if applicable.

    ILLEGAL PARKING
    Parking is permitted only in clearly marked stalls — not on or over the lines. The Security Guard and/or the Police Department will issue a ticket and/or tow vehicles guilty of the following violations:

    Parking on and/or over the lines — occupying more than one parking space

    Please see the attached photo I took today, June 2nd when I exited the train at 6:50pm on the NH bound side of the parking lot. Both the patrol officer and security guard are clearly parked on/over the white lines. Please provide me with a logical and rational explanation as for why they can flaunt the sames rules that all permit holders are expected to abide by and then are ticketed when they don’t. What ever happened to practice what you preach? Please also explain to me why, given the increased traffic due to the parking fiasco at hand, the officer is not out of his car walking around and assisting with directing traffic, etc? Just to be clear the patrol officer was already parked and I observed the security guard pulling into the parking spot next to him. He had plenty of room to park appropriately even though cars where exiting the NH bound of the station. As not only a long term, permit holder and a tax paying Stratford resident, I expect a reply and/or confirmation that this issue is addressed and that each individual is issued their respective $25 violation.

    Sincerely,”

    Of course, the writer has not received a response from anyone in Town Hall. Just like when you contact a Board of Education member or a Town Council person.


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