The West Hartford Town Council will hold a virtual meeting Monday night, and included on the agenda is approval of a new schedule for adopting the budget. The Board of Education is adopting a new schedule as well.
By Ronni Newton
The West Hartford Town Council will hold its second virtual meeting Monday night at 6:30 p.m., and on the date on which the town’s budget was originally scheduled for adoption members will be instead setting a new adoption schedule that will include two public hearings.
Executive orders by Gov. Ned Lamont last month have permitted a change in the budget process for municipalities, allowing for virtual meetings as well as the adoption of budgets without a town meeting, but West Hartford has committed to the two public hearings required in its charter, albeit holding them in a virtual format due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“West Hartford is committed to the principles of open and transparent government,” Mayor Shari Cantor said. “Public input on the budget is critical, and the new format will allow us to receive comments in a manner that protects the health and safety of residents and taxpayers.”
The new schedule, which sets two virtual public hearings – one during the day and one in the evening – is co-sponsored by Deputy Mayor Leon Davidoff, who is chair of the Finance and Administration Committee, and Minority Leader Lee Gold.
The hearings will be held on Monday, April 27, at 2 p.m., and Thursday, April 30, at 6 p.m. Residents and taxpayers will be able to submit written comments in advance or call in to the meeting, and instructions will be forthcoming and will be posted on the town website.
Town Manager Matt Hart originally presented the $308.7 million FY2021 budget to the Town Council on March 10, but will be submitting proposed changes on Monday.
Following that presentation, the Council’s Finance and Administration Committee will also be engaging in a robust, department-by-department review and plans to hold at least two workshops amid the challenges of meeting virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Davidoff said.
“Adopting a budget is the most important thing the Town Council does,” he said. “The economic fallout from COVID-19 creates an unprecedented budgetary challenge, and we will carefully review every aspect of the budget to find savings and ensure our residents receive the services they need.”
Gold said he is looking forward to working with his colleagues to take on the challenges of this unique time. “The town is going to face some very difficult decisions as a result of COVID-19, and we must work together to solve our fiscal challenges. We must also be forward thinking about how the town will reopen for business,” he said.
The Board of Education’s budget is a large share of the town’s budget, and that budget has been under intense review as well since it was presented by Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore on March 3.
“The pandemic has presented enormous challenges for our school system,” said Board of Education Chair Deb Polun. “I am so proud of how our administrators, teachers, school employees, students, families and community members have responded to these challenges so far. The Board will work with our partners to ensure that West Hartford continues to provide the best public education in Connecticut.”
Board members already conducted one in-person workshop before Town Hall closed, but will be receiving amendments from Moore and will conduct a second workshop along with a public hearing on Tuesday, April 21, beginning at 6:30 p.m.
Comments regarding the Board of Education budget can be submitted via email ([email protected]) or by calling in to the meeting with comment. The hearing will also be aired live on WHCi. The public can also join Hangouts Meet at meet.google.com/wae-grye-nuv or join by phone: +1 336-949-8161 (PIN: 722649448).
The Board of Education must adopt its budget by May 17, and the Town Council must adopt the overall budget by May 26 under the new schedule permitted by the state, but Cantor and Polun said both are committed to completing the process ahead of those deadlines.
“We are not going to put off making tough decisions,” said Cantor. “Residents need stability and to know what to expect. In partnership with the schools, we will engage in a thorough and efficient budget adoption process. We must be thoughtful but decisive.”