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‘We had to stop in our tracks, so should you.’ Letter from the Editor to the Town of Bethel, Board of Selectman and Board of Finance

Report by Paula Antolini, May 10, 2020, 9:45AM EDT

To the Town of Bethel, Board of Selectman and Board of Finance,

I am writing to you as a Bethel business owner and also as a 16-year resident, opposing any increase in the 2020-21 Bethel proposed Budget, including the Bethel schools budget and the Town of Bethel municipal budget.  No budget approval, no increases at all, no salary raises, no additional jobs/positions added, keep a flat mill rate, no raise in taxes.

I also object to having my right to vote, and the rights of fellow citizens, removed with you using the COVID-19 crisis as an excuse to do so when numerous businesses are presently allowed to operate using social distancing. Also, the Bethel schools are handing out food to hundreds to thousands of individuals with a drive-up method. I think we can safely do the same with a drive-up vote. Registrar Tim Beeble mapped out a plan for that at a recent BOS meeting. Please restore the vote to Bethel citizens for the proposed budget vote process.

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As owner of Bethel Advocate LLC News Media, I witness the struggles and tragedies of citizens here, along with the good news too, everyday in my coverage of news stories. 

The most recent news is, of course, the COVID-19 crisis and what it is doing to our community. The fact that 16 residents have died, so far, from this disease in Bethel, and many more have been diagnosed, is devastating. In addition, families and/or friends could not be with their loved ones at the moment of death, if they were in a hospital or other healthcare facility. They could not be present at their funeral in a normal ceremony, a cost which was an unexpected expense during this pandemic. But now they have to pay higher taxes nonetheless, and also lose their right to vote on the budget. 

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One Bethel resident, Jonathan Coelho, 32, died of complications from COVID-19 after 28 days, leaving a wife and two young children, one born with severe neurological problems, including cerebral palsy. But now Mrs. Coelho has to pay higher taxes nonetheless, and also lose her right to vote on the budget.   

The Bethel movie theater has closed its doors permanently, due to the “current pandemic and economic strife” as the owners stated in an online letter posted to the community. They are greatly missed. Even when local businesses re-open, some can only allow half the amount of customers inside due to social distancing, thus instantly cutting their income in half, after most already struggled being closed for several months. But now they have to pay higher taxes nonetheless, and also lose their right to vote on the budget. 

I’ve volunteered for the Brotherhood in Action and hand-delivered food to needy families in Bethel, yet these same families are incurring tax raises year after year. This is a very sobering observation when you realize these families do not have enough funds to buy food BEFORE the pandemic, and have much less or no funds AFTER taxes are raised once more. But now they have to pay higher taxes nonetheless, and also lose their right to vote on the budget. 

I’ve also volunteered for the American Cancer Society Relay For Life fundraiser, which raises money to find a cure for this disease. I have seen what this disease does to families. I lost my best friend 5 months ago, she was suddenly gone after being diagnosed just 6 weeks earlier. Can you also imagine what those individuals and their families are going through not being able to get “routine” diagnostic tests, or worse yet, having to go into the overburdened, overcrowded hospital for cancer treatment where COVID-19 is rampant? But now they have to pay higher taxes nonetheless, and also lose their right to vote on the budget. 

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Numerous towns in Connecticut have approved a zero tax, zero budget increase, under the same Governor Ned Lamont recent executive orders. I urge you to do the same. The residents in those towns can sleep well at night because they don’t have to pay higher taxes or lose their right to vote on the budget. But WE have to pay higher taxes nonetheless, and also lose our right to vote on the budget. “We the People.”

This year-after-year raising of taxes and budget has to stop. Approving any increases in taxes/budget, especially salary raises, or adding new jobs/positions, no matter WHAT the present financial situation is, is heartless and unconscionable in this time of crisis/pandemic. This town has a lot of potential but you are pricing everyone out. It is no longer a matter of “choice” to move out, it is a “need” to move out. 

Why is it that our home values are plummeting each year yet taxes on those same homes are raised annually? This needs to be investigated.  

It is shocking that most of the Bethel department heads or school officials have written to you or made presentations explaining WHY you should NOT cut THEIR budget. They urge you to approve the present proposed budget or justify WHY they have asked for raises or new positions/jobs or items to be added to their departments, at additional cost to taxpayers. This, while the rest of us have to cut corners in order to eat, pay our mortgages or rent, sustain our businesses or drive to work, pay for gas or pay commuter fees, keep our children in school/college, but also hand over hundreds to thousands of dollars to the town each year in fees and taxes. But WE have to pay higher taxes nonetheless, and also lose our right to vote on the budget. “We the People.”

What kind of example are they setting for the children? That we are in hard times and a pandemic quarantine but you still press for MORE? This is similar to a spoiled child asking parents to purchase the expensive toys no matter what, despite parents not having funds for food. Residents have had to sacrifice and all of you should do same. 

I will tell you how this story ends. As soon as people can move out they will. Please don’t make Bethel a ghost town. 

People will remember how you voted and how you suppressed our right to vote. Letters and/or emails or public comment online is NOT the same as a vote. 

If individuals can figure out how to give out thousands of sandwiches at school, pick up food at restaurants or have it delivered, shop in grocery, liquor and drug stores safely, we can and should be able to vote safely. If most other businesses are re-opening soon why can’t we then vote in person (with social distancing) with an extended date?   We have the right to vote according to the United States Constitution. 

It appears that you are rushing to push an approval for this budget despite all reasonable suggestions for solutions, pushed aside. This is not a partisan issue it is a human issue. Have sensibility and compassion. This year IS different from the others. 

We had to stop in our tracks, so should you.

Paula Antolini

Editor

BETHEL ADVOCATE LLC News Media

betheladvocate.com

P.S. One final note, I believe we should recognize all the local businesses who are working diligently to keep us fed or supply us with necessities and patronize their establishments as much as possible. Of course thank you to all the medical workers, police department, fire departments and volunteers, who are helping the sick and keeping us safe during this pandemic quarantine. Thank you to the local people hand-making masks and individuals donating needed supplies for PPE. We could not have gotten this far without all of these individuals.

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