Tuesday, February 26, 2008

BOE Member Wellman's Proposed $743K Reduction

This is a list of the reductions to the proposed BOE Budget that were recommended by BOE Member Bill Wellman. "Most of the Administrators said that last year's Budget was good," he said. "Given the economic times we're facing, I don't see the need for these increases."

So there's no misunderstanding, here's how to read this. For example, the proposed increase in Object line 321, Instructional Programs, was $5,495.00. This is an 8.9% increase over last year's Budget.


321, Instructional Programs, $5,495.00 , 8.9%
322, Program Improvement, $12,100.00, 22.8%
323, Pupil Services Guidance, $69,449.00, 14.9%
324, Staff Training, $47,700.00, 97.3%

432, Non-Instructional Equipment, $4,553.00, 5.3%
433, Building & Grounds, $20,110.00, 8.5%

641, Texts New, $16,764.00, 18.2%
642, Texts Repair, $32,280.00, 67.6%
647, Periodicals, $4,385.00, 18.1%

720, Buildings & Improvements, $157,200.00, 214.2%
731, New Instructional Equipment, $66,043.00, 410.0%
733, Non-Instructional Equipment, $228,346.00, 1210.0%
734, Non-Instructional Equipment, Replace $45,359.00, 256.3%

810, Dues & Fees, $33,291.00, 69.0%

Bill's motion failed, 7-2. Only he and Julie Turk voted for it.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Some Budget Basics

Without any increases in either the School or "Town-side" Budgets, there would be a 3.2% tax increase that results from revenue losses like fees from the Town Clerk, Buildings Department and Zoning Commission. In addition, every time the Fed lowers the lending rate, the Town's interest income takes a hit.

No increases in union salaries, debt service, medical payments or road work or anything else. Everything stays flat and there'd be a 3.2% tax increase. Subtract this from the proposed 4.9% and there'd be a 1.7% tax increase.

What will happen if the voters reject 4.9%? Then very tough decisions will have to be made about where to make cuts, balancing the services that taxpayers demand against their willingness and ability to pay for them. Should Town Hall be closed 1 day a week? Should all capital projects stop? Should employees make a higher contribution to their medical insurance? No.

I think that the money should come out of the BOE Budget, not the "Town-side." I am not in favor of emasculating the Public Works Department or decreasing the level of services anywhere in Town.

Every year we hear the rants of the PTO and BOE who swear that there's no money to be cut from anywhere. Baloney. And then, to make their point, the first cuts they make are those that most affect the kids like pay-to-play. Let's see, there are how many principals? 18? And how many of them make over 100K? All of them, I think.

How many BOE and PTO members are truly qualified to manage or even comment on a budget of this magnitude? Get a group of qualified and sophisticated people together to examine the BOE Budget and demand the supporting evidence - not the hyperbole or rhetoric - the hard evidence. They'll find the scratch, believe me. Open the BOE books to Ray Jankowski, the Town's CFO. He'll find it.

"The economic climate is not good," he said at the Budget presentation last Tuesday. "Do we want to take 2.5 million dollars from undesignated?" Not really, but there doesn't seem to be a choice if we want to be able to deliver services."

"Do I want to use a million dollars from the internal service fund? Not really."

Finally, Ray cautioned the Council and Board of Finance with regard to requests for money that come before the Members. "Every dollar counts," he said. He's so right.

Don't fall for the BOE and PTO hype. Demand accountability.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Mayor's Budget Suggestions to BOE

I can't argue with any of the suggestions made by the Mayor in this FOI'd letter. My bet is that the BOE will pay little or no attention. What do you think?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Mayor's Budget; 1.76M From BOE Proposal

Here are the highlights of the Mayor's proposal that she says is "evolving:"

-1.76M reduction in BOE's proposed increase
-4.99% tax increase [correction: 4.9%]
-3.7% increase in "Town-side" Budget
-3.3% increase in BOE Budget
-2.5M from undesignated
-1M from the internal service fund aka "medical reserve"
-1 cut data entry clerk at DPW

More details to follow.

Ray Jankowski Finds 220K For BOE

So the Town's CFO, Director of Finance Ray Jankowski (the "Town Side") finds a way to reduce the BOE Budget by 220K. What else would he be able to find if he was allowed the opportunity to examine the BOE books?

Why are there two separate finance departments?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Tax Increase?

The Mayor will present her proposed Budget next Tuesday night. What increase, if any, would you support?

Monday, February 11, 2008

As Requested, the FOIC Decision

Split Recommendation From Hearing Officer In Lewin v. BOE FOI Complaint

There is a story in today's News-Times about what reporter John Pirro describes as a "dismissal" of my FOI Complaint against the BOE.

It's my opinion that the article is as accurate as was Pirro's reporting on the Spatola Ethics case: it is full of errors and omissions and is misleading and biased. I suspect that my criticism of his reporting in that matter led to his coverage of this one...a story that in my opinion is full of errors and omissions and is misleading and biased.

Pirro wrote that the FOIC "has dismissed" my complaint as if it was dismissed in its entirely. Wrong. I "won" two of my counts, my charge that the BOE failed to warn the Bob Bigham Meeting properly and its failure to make a proper motion to go into executive session.

Pirro failed to report that what the FOIC issued was a "Proposed Final Decision," a Hearing Officer's recommendation to the full Commission. The counts in my complaint aren't "won" or "dismissed" until the Commission acts.

The HO did recommend dismissal of my claims: a) that former teacher Bob Bigham's name should have been in the agenda; b) that the Superintendent and her attorney shouldn't have been in the entire executive session; and c) that action was taken in executive session.

As I will argue to the full Commission, I think the public has a right to know if a teacher like Bigham is going to be discussed by the BOE so parents can make comments and be made aware of what's going on.

Nanci Barnes' story in this week's New Milford Times, "Resident's FOI Complaint Results In Split Decision" is accurate and comprehensive.

I have asked the Publisher and Editor of the News-Times to print a correction.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Mayor Asks BOE To Try Again

In this letter sent yesterday, the Mayor asked the BOE and the Superintendent to go back to the drawing boards.

"I must respectfully request that the Board recognize the economic climate our taxpayers face and work toward reducing the proposed increase by further examining each budget component and element..."


I think she has spoken for every reasonable taxpayer.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Tough Budget Times...They ARE A-Comin'...

The Town's CFO, Finance Director Ray Jankowski, is pulling out his hair. And don't make any jokes...he still has plenty of it. What it appears that he has very little left of is a sense of humor about the Town's financial well-being. If you'd care to ask him about his budget concerns, call him at 355-6060. If you do call, you'll be a member of a very small group that does not include the overwhelming majority of our elected officials. It seems that not many folks from our Town Council and Board of Finance bother to ask him the important questions like, what does our ECS money look like this year? How are collections going? What impact do the fed reductions have on our budget? Are we doing anything that will impact our Moody's rating? What planning must we do now to help next year's budget? What does our debt service look like? Are there any problems with medical accounts? I'm certainly no expert on municipal finance and GAAP but I do know enough to predict that the taxpayers are not going to be willing to support much of a tax increase, if any.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Martha Sanford's (Almost) Ode to Ron Parks*

I jumped out of bed this morning with the anticipation of my first day without Ron. For twenty years he has been here – I now realize – actually guiding my day.

As I came through the main door I realized that I had no keys to get into the office and couldn’t go jump into my new routine. He wasn’t here with the door already opened with coffee waiting. Then we lost our coffee carafe, another bad sign that we were beginning a new adventure without coffee.

Luckily Kathy rescued me with coffee from DD. Ok, I said to myself I can do it now. I’ll pretend that the day is just beginning and start all over. That’s when I opened my coffee and the aroma drifted to my brain, I very casually took a sip and lit my cigarette. Kathy again saved me and asked what I thought I was doing…oops I’m supposed to be outside.

Now I know what Ron’s job was – he was here to keep me going each day. I certainly will miss him as a friend but look forward to the new direction that this office might take.

*Yesterday was Ron's last day as the Town's Assessor.

BOF Member Michel Gutman: 'Taxpayers Should Be Disappointed'


As a member of the Board of Finance, I felt it was my responsibility to attend all four budget hearings so that I could report back to my Board when the BOE request comes to us.

I think we should add $7,000 to the BOE budget....for cheerleading uniforms for each of the seven Board of Ed members who voted for the budget. The other two, Bill Wellman and Julie Turk, get dunce caps and have to sit in the corner and be quiet. No one on the board is listening to them anyway.....I noticed everyone's "body language" every time they spoke. There was anger seeping from their pores.

Bill Wellman asked the majority of the questions. They were well thought out, but they fell upon deaf, indifferent ears. I was a little disappointed last night, however, when, after all the questions he asked the first three nights, he proposed "no more than 4.8%" without offering any suggestions, leaving it up to the "experts" in the administration. Since those "experts" already claimed to present a bare-bones budget, that didn't make sense. He should've proposed specific cuts. I'll cut him some slack because he was just appointed a few weeks ago. With that said, I still think he's a good addition to the board and we need more like him. I hope he continues to ask questions, and I expect that he will effectively scrutinize any spending requests.

Wendy Faulenbach presented her comparisons to other districts increases, showing that they're similar, and some are even higher. How is that relevant? I just don't see the point. This is about New Milford, and what the taxpayers can afford. I make my best possible effort to avoid the whole Republican/Democrat thing, but I often wonder whose side some people are really on.....why give ammunition to the side that's already fully armed?

There were a total of $160,026 in proposed "cuts" - two tenths of a percent of the budget:
$18,000 from line 561 - Magnet school tuition - That cut should've been $27,000 (18 students x $1500). The tuition is $1,000 per student. Why were they padding the budget with an additional $1500 per student, by requesting $2500 each? Would they have just accepted a 150% increase in tuition?

$17,026 from line 810 - Dues and memberships - We're paying $17,000 so they can have "reduced admission" to more cheerleading classes???

$50,000 from line 511 - Additional school bus - We have fewer students each year, yet we need another bus? By the way, why did Bill Wellman abstain on this one?

$75,000 from the Capital budget - $65,000 was justified by Julie Turk for all new tables and chairs in the High School Cafeteria. So all she was really asking for was a discretionary $10,000 decrease. The Capital budget, by the way, is up 108.25%!!!!!!!!

Of this $160,026, only $18,000 was approved by the board, and that wasn't really a cut at all. It was a reduction in an artificially inflated line item. And that line is still inflated..... So, in total, they "cut" three-one-hundreths of a percent of the requested budget.......What an accomplishment......

The final vote: 7 - 2. I'd probably feel better if it was 6-3, especially after the 75k motion was defeated. How do you vote to pass that motion, and still vote to approve the budget when it fails? Makes no sense to me.....

So, our Board of Education, which was elected to oversee the Administration (not the other way around), spent four nights playing checkers, while the master chess players in the Administration got their way, once again....I wish I could've been a fly on the wall when Dr. Paddyfote and the rest were high-fiving each other and doing their "touchdown dances"....

The taxpaying citizens of New Milford should be very disappointed. Unfortunately, they don't know any better. The newspapers provide only a fraction of the big picture, which can only be understood by actually attending these meetings.

9 For 9

Here's a great idea.

Swap BOE Members with Town Council Members for a while.

See if Ray O'Brien tolerates getting critical budget data on the night that he is expected to vote on it. See if Parliamentarian Roger Szendy allows blatant violations of Roberts Rules. See if John Lillis finds supporting documents acceptable.

Give it a try!