A small but controversial line item in the proposed municipal budget is the reason why the vote was so close on Tuesday, First Selectman George Temple says.
Temple said a $20,000 allocation to clean catch basins and flush fire hydrants at two private 55 and older communities, the Village at Oxford Greens and Meadowbrook Estates, raised the ire of many people who don’t believe taxpayer dollars should go toward helping private communities.
“That was the line item and there are some good points made on both sides of that issue,” Temple said. “People who came out against it are good people, who make some very good points, and I will address those points.”
The $13.4 million municipal budget called for an increase of $26,501, or .2 percent. Though the increase is minimal, voters accepted that plan by just eight votes – 725 to 717 – on Tuesday. Still, the $26.54 million school budget passed by 154 votes – 800 to 646, while a $734,000 plan to repair seven roads in town passed by 403 votes – 921 to 518.
Though the overall budget raises taxes 3.83 percent – or about $223 a year based on an average-sized home assessed at $250,000 – a majority of people involved in the budget process were more concerned about the precedent that could be set by the town performing work in a private community.
Temple says his proposal doesn’t set a precedent – it is a one-time show of thanks for the private communities, he contends.
“Those people have become a bulwark of our taxes, so I appreciate the over 55 communities,” Temple said. “…This is telling a group of people that we appreciate them being here, and I do. When it becomes an issue that relates to health and safety of town in general or our emergency response people, I think we’re on course to respond to that.”
Will taxes go down next year?
Temple said he will work “24-7 on bringing taxes down” for next fiscal year. He said the town has plans for economic development that will bring in large taxpayers who can help shift the tax burden onto commercial and industrial businesses, which would give residential homeowners a bit of a break on their tax bills.
The town has saved $1.4 million on refinancing its debt, about $120,000 a year by sending electric rates out to bid, and thousands of dollars on various contract renegotiations, Temple said.
“Our next approach is to get involved in a more global consortium of other towns about combining our bargaining power on insurance,” he said. “That’s a big plumb for an insurance company to get more towns.”
Parents came out to support the education budget
Board of Finance Chairwoman Lila Ferrillo said cuts her board made to the proposed Board of Ed. budget forced the school community to vote.
All told, the Board of Finance cut $250,000 from the proposed school budget before it went to referendum.
“The Board of Ed., the booster club, the PTA understood that they may not like the cuts that were made, but they could live with it,” she said. “The (school community) may not have been able to live with what would come down the road if this budget failed.”
Board of Ed. Chairwoman Paula Guillet said she thanks people who supported the education proposal.
“People realize you can’t keep cutting without hurting the kids,” she said.
The school board still has to determine where to make cuts from the education budget to make up for the $250,000 cut from the Board of Finance.
And, Guillet said, the school board hopes to have a surplus this year and will be able to give some money back to the town.
Passage of road repair plan not surprising
Ferrillo said plans to repave or reconstruct roads always pass in Oxford.
“That’s because they are very visual, people can see roads and see where their money is going,” she said.
Temple said he, too, was not surprised that the roads project passed by such a wide margin.
In reference to the poor conditions of some Oxford roads, Temple quipped, “The only thing I’m surprised about is that people were able to get here tonight.”