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Low Voter Turnout Doesn't Represent 'Overwhelming' Budget Support

The following Letter to the Editor was submitted by the CC4A leadership team.

To the Editor,

Only 9.97 percent of registered Avon voters participated in the town budget referendum on Wednesday, and Board of Finance Chair, Tom Harrison, responded by ." 

Really? When only 789 out of 11,000 registered voters favor anything, it can hardly be considered ‘overwhelming support’ and the Board of Finance should hardly be claiming success. 

Superintendent Gary Mala proposed a lean, no-frills school budget (comprising 80 percent of the town budget) that balanced basic student needs, contractual obligations, and funding realities.  It was built through a thoroughly transparent process and shared openly with town boards and the public.  It featured creative financing strategies and increased efficiencies to lower costs, and the proposed increase was in line with a conservative state average.  Likewise, Town Council Chair Mark Zacchio presented an equally well-constructed, conservative budget for municipal services.

Yet, in just one brief meeting with scant deliberation, our Board of Finance (excepting Tom Gugliotti and Brian Stoll) put forth a budget that ignores the basic needs and fixed expenses identified by the experts - at a point when investment in school curriculum and technology, as well as municipal infrastructure (like fire equipment and road repairs), is desperately needed.

Unfortunately, Avon’s Board of Finance aligned themselves with the nay-sayers, many of whom spoke at the April 9 budget hearing to express their disdain for school spending:

  •  One woman accused the town of redistributing wealth into the pockets of families with school children who “float above the fray.” “Where's the shared sacrifice?” she asked. (Shouldn’t the parents who pay thousands of dollars in compulsory fees for public education, be the ones asking this question?)
  • One man objected to teachers who, at the height of their careers, “can make as much as lawyers or other professionals.”  Should our teachers, 90 percent or more of whom have advanced degrees, not?
  • Another man suggested that Avon parents expect “gold-plated door handles” in their kids' schools, while a woman declared that she’s tired of paying for Avon’s children and getting “nothing for (her) tax dollars.”

 Fortunately, resident Linda Merlin eloquently answered them. With her son graduating from Avon High School this year, Linda will join the ranks of taxpayers who ‘get nothing for their tax dollars.'  Only, she doesn't see it that way. “I get a lot out of educating Avon's children, whether they are mine or others',” she said.

 How true. We all benefit from the taxpayer-subsidized public education we receive as children, and we all benefit when today’s children become a well-educated work force - and, ultimately, new taxpayers.  We participate in the tax system for life.  Young families benefit from senior tax dollars invested in public schooling, while seniors benefit from younger adults’ investment in Social Security and taxes on their, typically, larger properties. At some points, we get more out of the system than we contribute, and at others, we contribute more than we take out. 

In the end, we all benefit from supporting each other along the continuum, in the true spirit of community.

 No, Tom Harrison.  Avon voters do not ‘overwhelmingly support’ the 2012-13 budget. Most of them were so outraged by the budget the Board of Finance put forth (and the flippant process by which it was achieved) that they didn’t even bother to vote.  Perhaps they are saving their votes for the November 2013 elections when they can make a meaningful difference.

-The CC4A leadership team
Abha Bernard, Scott Bernard, Susan Rietano Davey, David Magrini, Robin Blauers Piper, Mitchell Piper, Julie Tacinelli and Barbara Zuras

diane carney May 22, 2012 at 01:18 PM
Misquoting people and putting out misleading, and many times outright untrue statements, has become the norm for members of CC4A. They seem to think that these tactics will somehow justify their unrealistic demands on the taxpayers of Avon. The realistic members of the Avon BOF listened to the residents. They responded by reducing the proposed budget to reflect the concerns of everyone. As for the low voter turnout, it might have been partly due to the increasing frustration of residents with the fixed expenses forced by the overly generous compensation Avon pays to its teachers and administrators, and to the union contracts that allow Avon police officers to pad their salaries with outrageous amounts of overtime. CC4A needs to face reality. People are tired of the majority of their tax dollars being spent on salaries and benefits. They are also tired of getting "next to nothing in return".
Elizabeth May 22, 2012 at 02:05 PM
As a parent of children in the Avon public school system, CC4A does not speak for me or for any of my similarly situated Avon friends and acquaintances. I think CC4A overestimates their own appeal.
Adam May 22, 2012 at 02:11 PM
I agree with Diane.
Mark Zacchio May 22, 2012 at 03:07 PM
To be clear: Overtime for Police Officers is driven by 2 factors. 1) We have been short staffed as recruitment for these positions is a long process, and, many applicants fall out in the background checks. OT is essencial for the continuation of services - remember the Police Officers are our medical First Responders and time is critical in most medical situations, and 2) OT worked on separate jobs (and this is most of what is elevating OT listed in salaries) is NOT paid by the municipal budget, it is paid by the contractor for that particular job. The Avon mountain reconstruction was a good example of this, where most of the high OT earnings that were reported were due to Contractor OT. To be clear, OT runs through Avon's books(through the normal W2 process) and is shown in the Salary booklet, but is not paid by Avon's budget. Mark
diane carney May 22, 2012 at 04:05 PM
I was referring to the outrageous amounts of OT that Avon Police work in order to pad their pensions, which are paid for by Avon taxpayers, no matter who the contractor is. As for the Avon Mtn project....wasn't that a State of Ct job?
Sarah May 22, 2012 at 04:35 PM
Regardless of what side you are on, it should be reasonable for our elected representatives on the Board of Finance to explain their rationale when deciding on a number. I have seen some members of the board do this while others have flatly refused. As a numbers person myself I appreciate a well thought out decision, even if it supports another opinion.
Mark Zacchio May 22, 2012 at 05:33 PM
Correct Diane - the Avon Mtn job was completed by the State of CT, and the OT worked by the PD was paid by the Contractor. Local officers have first rights to local OT, and it's extended to other municipalities when/if there's a need. Also note that as the OT is paid through the local municipalites payroll, and shows on the local W2, it is indeed counted as wages for the retirement benefit calculation -all by State legislation, and not controlled by or set by your local policies.
Mitchell Piper May 23, 2012 at 01:22 AM
Diane, The CC4A is not misquoting anyone. I attended the meeting and you are free to go to the Town Hall and review the minutes. You yourself stood up at the meeting and addressed the poor quality of the roads in our community comparing them to a "jigsaw puzzle" due to all of the repairs. Because we disagree on municipal funding is no reason to rudely attach a group of citizens. While I may not agree with you on the level of spending needed in Avon I have never attacked you for your personal views. Our argument is not with you, the ATA or any other group in Avon. It is with the ridiculous manner in which the BOF conducts business, their total lack of concern for our children, and the manner in which Tom Harrison shuts off discussion the minute a member disagrees with him.
Karen Cianci May 23, 2012 at 03:57 AM
"Avon voters do not ‘overwhelmingly support’ the 2012-13 budget. Most of them were so outraged by the budget the Board of Finance put forth (and the flippant process by which it was achieved) that they didn’t even bother to vote." Thank you CC4A for so perfectly explaining how I felt on voting day. I stayed home that day; something I never do. The word "flippant" is spot-on for how the Bd of Finance handled the budget this year and year's past. This year even more so. Their sole objective in cutting a well-thought out budget this year was to show the town that they can still "flex their muscles" and will do so just to show who's boss. There wasn't one single reason for Tom Harrison and his followers to cut the budget. Not one reason. This attitude by the Board of Finance is the reason that residents become apathatic. Why bother coming out to meetings and making your voice heard and stating your opinions intelligently? No one listens. It was a hard slap in the face by the Board of Finance (Gugliotti and Stoll excepted) and an insult to our goodwill and citizenship.
Patti Grillo May 23, 2012 at 03:30 PM
It is disappointing to see such critical comments about CC4A, the Avon schools, and the Avon police. Instead of just criticizing, what are your suggestions, strategies, ideas, tactics? It is so easy to just attack on the platform of taxes are too high. I appreciate all those in the town from the bottom on up who have dedicated hours to determine solutions, fully aware of the strain on all due to the economy, and have had to make the hard, conscientious decisions about budgets. As for the incredibly low voter turnout, I believe the frustration also lies in that no matter what effort every department makes in analyzing their budget, the Board of Finance will dictate what moves forward to a vote, without the courtesy of providing the same level of detail in their response as seen in the departments' budgets. Let's hope going forward that Avon residents are above the fighting that we see in all levels of government where little is accomplished, and like CC4A direct energy to identifying solutions, volunteer and get involved in whatever group you align with, but make a difference....not just criticize! That's the easy way out.

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