Report by Paula Antolini
April 3, 2017 8:31AM EDT
Town Budget Cost Saving, Social Services Director Position, and Senior Van: Letter to the Editor from Cynthia McCorkindale
Recently, I was onstage as a Bethel Board of Finance member at a Public Hearing where Bethel taxpayers ask questions and make comments on the proposed annual budget. On this night, people spoke of the need for the part-time Social Services Director position to be upped to full-time with benefits. Also vocalized was the need for a Senior Center van and driver. Because these are issues that the Board had focused on specifically during the budget process, I will use them as examples here.
I voted “no” on both. Here’s why: Many those who spoke in favor of a full-time Social Services Director were Town employees, and the outcome could affect their personal livelihood. Regarding the van, the Town received a grant for approximately $48K. Combined with the Town’s obligatory contribution of $12K, a van could be purchased for $60K, and a driver at an additional $10-12K, depending on part or full time.
On the surface, both propositions seem completely reasonable. I mean, how could anyone be so cold as to deny the seniors their van, or rob the disenfranchised of a social worker?
First of all, I like the current Director of Social Services. She seems very caring and dedicated. However, when her case was presented to the Board of Finance, we were told that she works many extra hours a week, and, because there are restrictions on how many hours she can legally work, the community was not being served.
However, no hard data whatsoever was offered showing exactly what was being accomplished during the hours worked, how it was parsed out, or what would fall by the wayside because of insufficient hours. Even the few graphs we saw were flawed.
On the van subject, again, no data other than an anecdote of one senior being unable to secure a seat on the SweetHart bus. No statistics, no testimony. Baked into the cake were associated insurance costs, registration, taxes, maintenance, and a host of other expenses. Furthermore, once installed, the van will have a perennial place in the Town budget.
As I saw it, in both cases, we would be deciding based purely on emotion.
As a fiscal conservative, I’m a big fan of private resources. As a Board of Finance member, I’m committed to lowering government spending as much as possible. I always try vote with my rational mind and not my heart. Relying exclusively on emotions or “doing the right thing” muddies the waters and obscures issues. It also kills any incentive to find better ways to use existing resources.
I have a heart, and others outside the government’s payroll also have hearts. It’s this combination of caring and individual action that makes America what it is – communities of people with the willingness to pool resources and help each other in times of need. I’m much more apt to trust private citizens to make smart decisions with their dollars over the government.
During the budget process, the Board of Finance heard presentations from all departments. Some made very clear, concise points, indicating that they were running a tight ship. Others, not so much.
But there’s a larger issue: There exist myriad cost-saving methods that the Town of Bethel could adopt.
As we continue to add expenses and bonding projects, like a $15 million police department and $70+ million in school renovations, bits and pieces of a broken system are literally scattered all over the place.
For example, we cannot even get the broken pipe repaired at the Transfer Station that has deprived them of running water for years. A dump with no running water? And, for years, the Town has paid registration and insurance for junked, inoperable vehicles until very recently, when an auction was finally held and yielded $20K. Thousands of taxpayer dollars are spent on legal notices in the NewsTimes which could be published in the Pennysaver for a fraction of the price. Vehicles illegally registered out of state continue to rob the Town of revenue, and will only increase given the current residential overbuilding. Can we not address these issues?
Additionally, it is somehow beyond the scope of possibility to get decent sound levels from the taxpayer-funded P.A. system for Town Meetings and Public Hearings. The taxpayer-funded video system in Meeting Room A is somehow rendered inoperable whenever there’s a request for a meeting to be recorded. Audio recording is no longer possible because the First Selectman “doesn’t know where Wendy keeps the machine.”
Our Annual Town Meeting is Monday, April 3 at 7:30pm at BHS. The budget is still too high, and there are still areas to be trimmed. The state of Connecticut’s economy is unravelling, and we need to start operating within our means right now. Let’s clean up inefficiencies before inundating taxpayers with more hiked up taxes and mill rate.
Cynthia J. McCorkindale
Cynthia McCorkindale is a Bethel Board of Finance member.
Photo: Cynthia McCorkindale.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the letter writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Bethel Advocate.