Recently the First Selectman called a Joint Special meeting of the Woodbridge Boards of Selectmen and Finance. First on the agenda was a “Joint Review of Woodbridge Budget Elements and Process”. I was very pleased to attend this meeting, since I believe it was prompted by my column of September 30th, in which I laid out a series of suggestions on how to improve the Town’s budget process. I hoped that at least some of those suggestions would receive a substantive discussion.
The First Selectman opened the meeting with two misleading assertions: first, that the town has an “award-winning budget and budget process”. It is important to understand that the well-deserved award that Finance Director Tony Genovese regularly receives is an award for the budget presentation, that is, for the way in which his budget documents present the town’s financial information. It is not an award for the budget itself, or for the policies that underlie the budget, or for the process that is followed by the administration. The First Selectman repeatedly mischaracterizes this award.
Next, the First Selectman said that we have “the support of our residents every year at our Annual Meeting for the budget”. This statement is more than misleading, it is simply false. With few exceptions, every year at our Annual Town Meeting we fail to achieve a quorum and the budget passes by default. One of my suggestions for improving our budget process, by the way, was to follow the practice of the vast majority of Connecticut towns and hold an annual budget referendum. Because the complexities of modern life make attendance at the Annual Town Meeting impractical for many people, I believe that approving the budget by referendum would be a much more democratic and transparent approach.
When we turned to the substance of the special meeting on budget process, much of the discussion focused on whether we should set an overall budget goal. I suggested that we might be more likely to achieve better budget control if we had an overall goal in mind from the start. Only one member of the Board of Finance voiced any support for this concept, indicating that he supported setting an overall goal because he feels that “some of our departments do spend too damn much money”. The idea of setting a goal met with considerable resistance. It appears that we have two very different approaches to budgeting on our boards of Selectmen and Finance: I believe that we should decide how much we can afford to spend then prioritize our needs within that limit. Others feel we should decide what we want to buy then raise taxes to cover the cost. In sum, this special meeting was a disappointment. No substantive changes to the budget process will occur. The Scalettar administration will conduct business as usual, following a process that has resulted in Woodbridge having the highest municipal property tax in New Haven County, tenth highest of the 169 towns in the state.
As the end of the year approaches, I want to thank the many town residents who have reached out to me with questions and concerns. I’d also like to thank those who have helped me pull together this regular column – especially Cathy Wick – as I consider it vital to voice my constituents’ concerns and present “another point of view”. As always, you can reach me at (203)887-9065. Happy New Year!
By Selectman Maria Cruz Kayne