The first of two public hearings on West Hartford’s proposed 2019-2020 budget was held on Thursday night.
By Ted Glanzer
Just four people spoke at the West Hartford Town Council’s public hearing Thursday on the $297.9 million budget that Town Manager Matt Hart presented earlier this month.
Three of the residents, however, expressed their complete disapproval over the proposed budget, which calls for a $6.9 million net spending increase, and a 2.59 percent tax increase for an “average” homeowner who has a home assessed at $226,360, and two vehicles assessed at $9,646 each.
“I read this budget from all you guys, and all I ever hear is well we have the greatest leadership,” resident Edward Zimmerman said. “ We don’t. All you want to do is destroy all the people in Elmwood with this 3 percent tax raise. It’s a joke.”
Zimmerman said he is handicapped and has had two open-heart surgeries, and has to work hard to earn a living, yet it has become increasingly difficult to do so in West Hartford.
“I bust my butt for the little bit of money I get, and now it’s got to go to pay for extra taxes,” he said. “Every year, you say let’s raise the taxes. You make this town horrible for all of us to live in. The little bit of money I get, you want to make sure you take from me.”
He said savings could be realized through not unnecessarily plowing roads, not paying police overtime at construction sites, and other staffing levels with involving public safety.
Linda DiNapoli bemoaned the sparse turnout from her fellow residents before calling on people to get more involved.
She said the town should find ways to cut spending, but not in areas such as the Town Clerk’s office and the Tax Assessor’s office. She also said the town needed to fix the roads, which, she said, were like “Swiss cheese.”
George Kennedy, of the town’s taxpayer’s association, also said the town’s roads were in bad shape.
“Thank God I do not have false teeth, because with the conditions of the roads, they would have fallen out,” he said. “You people should be ashamed of yourself. … There’s potholes all over the place.”
He said the taxes in West Hartford were too high and people were moving out of town as a result of them. He added that senior residents were the best because of the relatively few services they use in town, compared with younger families that have children, which cost a lot to educate.
Kennedy said a town like Westport has lower taxes, but better amenities, such as a hockey rink, a marina, a nightclub and a links golf course.
“What do we get for our taxes? A bloated educational [system] that adds staff with a significantly reduced student population,” he said. “The roads are crumbling. … We have no leaf collection – Hartford does – the dump fees have gone up again, and I pay $250 to pick up my leaves.”
Kennedy said many people would continue to leave town because of the high taxes. He said the budget was a rubber-stamp process and recommended town boards being more transparent, the establishment of a budget advisory committee, an automatic budget referendum and “just learn to spend less money. We don’t need to be the best for everybody for everything.”
Judy Allen did not direct her ire toward the elected officials, but instead said she was concerned about the level of funding for storm-water drainage.
“It’s a high project and it’s really costly,” she said. “We’re not planning enough on how we’re going to pay for that.”
She also added that it was possible to reduce costs by cutting down the amount of trash and recycling residents have, as well as promoting regionalism and shared services wherever possible.
Mayor Shari Cantor closed the hearing after the four were done speaking. The next budget hearing is scheduled for April 15 at 2 p.m.
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