Good Town Governance

In Stories by Dave Ulmer and Jessica Jane Mancini

Ridgefield’s Board of Education (BOE) has adopted a budget request of $91 million for 2016-2017, an increase of +$4.9 million (+5.7%) compared to last year. The Board of Selectmen (BOS) approved an operating budget of $34.7 million, an increase of +$0.7 million (+2.1%). Including debt service of $12 million and $1.9 million for roads, spending could total as much as $140 million, an increase of +5% versus last year.

After reviewing these figures, the BOS passed a motion requesting that the Board of Finance (BOF) — of which we are elected members – reconcile these budgets in such a way so as to limit the increase in the property tax to no more than +3.5%.

This year will mark the thirteenth and fifth time (respectively) that we have been involved in Ridgefield’s budget process as members of the BOF. As always, we approach this year’s budget with open minds, and look forward to a substantive discussion of what is best for the town as a whole.

Many residents have reached out to us with their opinions and ideas about the budget — especially the proposal for the schools. We appreciate and actively solicit your interest and insights as we all review and assess the near-term needs and longer-term goals the budgets seek to address, and to balance those needs and goals with available resources and taxpayers’ ability and willingness to bear the expense.

The BOF is ready to engage with the public — and with BOE and BOS — to evaluate the education and town budgets in fulfillment of our responsibility to “maintain the Town in a sound overall financial condition … considering financial aspects of government as a whole, rather than from the viewpoint of any particular Town agency” (excerpt from Ridgefield charter). Further, in accordance with financial best practices, our job is to pay current expenses with current income. Two of our colleagues on the board have served full terms on the BOE and have relevant experience with the schools’ budgeting process.

Beginning with a public hearing on Monday March 28, in the auditorium at East Ridge Middle School at 7:30pm, and with open deliberations continuing over six of the following eight weeknights, the BOF will carefully analyze the budgets presented to us before making its final recommendations, which go to the annual Town Meeting on May 2. By then, we hope to have accorded all town residents ample opportunity to articulate their views on the level and composition of the proposed budgets, striving to  reach a consensus among BOS, BOE and taxpayers.

Of course, voters have the final say at a town wide referendum, where Town and School budgets are presented separately for approval, on May 10.

We encourage everyone to utilize the public comment opportunities at the BOF public hearing on March 28 and the Town meeting on May 2nd.

Dave Ulmer is BOF Chair and Jessica Mancini is a BOF member. The Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee supplies this column.