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To the Editor:
West Hartford’s leadership has failed to protect our town from state government. The state has been in fiscal decline for years and this year Governor Malloy told West Hartford (as well as other towns) that state aid would be significantly reduced. True to his word, the Governor’s most recent budget eliminates essentially all state aid to West Hartford – $23.75 million – including $21 million in education cost sharing. The reason the Governor is controlling the state budget is because legislators have failed to do their job and pass a budget.
In April, the West Hartford Town Council passed a $285 million budget 6-3 along party lines with all six Democrats voting in favor of the budget. The budget not only ignored the Governor’s warnings, but assumed the town would receive MORE MONEY from the state than in prior years. While other towns included some or all of the Governor’s proposed cuts into their town budgets, West Hartford did not. The majority of the Council instead ignored the fiscal reality and placed blind hope in our legislators’ assurances that more money was coming. Hope and prayer is not a strategy and it is no way to run a town.
We have consistently warned our Council colleagues year after year that the town’s tax and spend approach is not sustainable. This year, in particular, we warned against adopting a budget that ignored the very real possibility of a significant reduction in state aid. Now that we are in the budget year, our options are limited and unacceptable – cut services, deplete the reserve fund and jeopardize the town’s credit rating, and/or raise property taxes even higher.
Democrat Town Councilor Leon Davidoff recently boasted about his support for the town budget and took a baseless jab at us, saying “Democrats lead, Republicans follow.” West Hartford Press, July 27, 2017, p.5. Leaders anticipate problems and make smart decisions and that was not done. Our record of leadership is clear – we have led in our opposition to the increased taxes, demanding a public hearing regarding the Weiming international school, questioning the purchase of the UConn property, and the MDC/Niagara deal, and the legality of creating an MDC reserve fund for the benefit of Hartford.
The state is in a permanent fiscal crisis and West Hartford needs to protect itself. If we want to maintain our excellence in education and public service we can not ignore the town’s unsustainable budget, tax, and debt trajectory. We need strong leadership and long-term financial discipline to lead our town forward, not short-sighted, unrealistic budgets which ignore the economic reality around us. As we head into the school year facing a $21 million cut in school funding, ask yourself, are your elected officials protecting the things important to you?
Denise Hall, Chris Barnes, Chris Williams
Members, West Hartford Town Council