School Budget

by Steve Taccogna
Chairman
Stratford Democratic Town Committee

The Stratford Democratic Town Committee issued the following statement following the decision by the Republican majority on the Town Council to reject the Board of Education’s full budget request:

Despite Stratford schools now being ranked as among the worst-performing in the state, the Republicans on the Town Council have refused to give our school officials the tools they need to improve schools and make the town a more attractive place to live and raise children.

The Council voted 6-4 this week to approve Mayor Hoydick’s $248.9 million budget proposal that fully funds all town departments at their requested budget level. It also includes substantial raises for many top town employees.

However, the budget did not fully fund the Board of Education’s well-researched request for a 4.57% increase at a time when our students are regaining a sense of stability in their school environments and the state recently designated Stratford an Alliance District.

The Mayor’s proposed budget was amended prior to the vote including the application of Alliance District funding. This completely defeats the intent – and opportunity – of this designation for our school district and students. Additionally, this designation calls into question concerns from some Republican majority Councilors about overfunding based on prior BOE budget surpluses.

The Democratic Town Councilors proposed amendments that put our children first by prioritizing and investing in the future of Stratford.

Dozens of teachers, students, and parents had rallied outside Town Hall ahead of a Council meeting earlier this week, voicing their concerns and calling for increases.
All four Democrats on the Council remained united in their support of fully funding the BOE budget proposal, heard their neighbors, and combined with others’ concerns with the Mayor’s proposal, voted against the final budget.

Our committee agrees with their joint statement about the tragic misuse of Alliance District funding, a targeted investment, to fill an operational gap. As our Town Councilors said, “We understand that at this specific moment in time, our students deserve not only their basic needs met but the opportunity for the bold, innovative reforms this funding was created to deliver.”

Letters To The Editor

By Dave Mullane

Stratford Residents,

This upcoming 22% increase in the WPCA (Water Pollution Control Authority) bill is really going to take away from that great mill rate reductions the RTC (Republican Town Committee) crows about. My taxes under Hoydick have gone up 7% on my home and now the sewer use is going up 22%.

The mayor’s office prepares both town and WPCA budgets so it appears they did nothing with WPCA for 4 years in order to make it seem they were really getting it done on property taxes.

In reality if WPCA does need to be increased, this should have been done gradually over the past 4 years. I can afford the $87 increase but there are others who really cannot and some people are years behind in their payments and could eventually lose their homes.

My own tax history shows that under Hoydick her first budget in 2018 saw my taxes decrease $13; 2019 it decreased $6; In 2020 with revaluation it increased $588 (a couple department heads in town saw their taxes decrease $3,000 and $1,500 that year).

Last year for election time another Mill rate reduction this time I went down $35. This year I should see another $3 decrease, why bother just leave the bill the same and put it towards the giant bonded debt we have.

For 6 years, the WPCA bill was $396 how was the town able to do when everywhere else prices are all over the place?

The $450 due WPCA in 2014 has now become $1,014 and even when the rate was lowered to $396 in 2015 the customer couldn’t pay that either that is now $823. Over on SGA (Stratford Get Answers) Gavin Forrester stated the WPCA has $8 million in arrears. What is being done about it?

For a more detailed information please read the Pew Charitable Trust article:

Where Unpaid Water Bills Can Mean Losing a Home | The Pew Charitable Trusts (pewtrusts.org)

The Soap Box

School Budget Cut

By Timothy Bristol
https://www.linkedin.com/in/tim-bristol/

On Wednesday night the Town Council passed the Mayor’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year. The new budget would lower the mill rate by .01 and give the Stratford schools just over $2 million dollars less than what the Board of Education requested.  The Board of education proposed a budget of $125.7 million dollars while the Mayor’s budget only gives them $123.2 million dollars. Stratford Town Council has been playing this game with the education budget for some time.  It has hurt Stratford Schools. In a Connecticut Post article from last month, it was noted that Stratford Schools have been recognized as an Alliance District by the state due to its low-performance metrics.

One would think that this would be a wake-up call for the Town Council and the mayor’s office to stop shorting the education budget, but it has not deterred them from doing so.

When protests were organized on Monday, the council chair Chris Pia said, “The Council’s task is running a budget for 55,000 people, there’s a good block of taxpayers that don’t have kids in the school system, that don’t want their taxes going up.”]

Reducing the mill rate by .01 mills is nothing, it’s not even a real reduction in taxes. The town council likes to believe they are lowering taxes every year by these tiny reductions in the mill rate but in reality, most homeowners have seen their tax bills increase.

It is extremely disappointing that the administration and the town council don’t see that our schools need funding now more than ever. The Covid pandemic has only made things worse for our schools over the last 2 years.

Both teachers and students have struggled during the pandemic, but the students are the ones who are left out in the cold when schools aren’t fully funded. The council’s reason for not funding the schools fully is ridiculous; the whole social contract of a town with public education is that everyone pitch in for the good of the whole town.

Imagine if people only paid taxes to the town departments that matter to them. Nothing would get funded. We are a community, and we should be acting like a community. Schools are important; Students need an education that can prepare them for the future.

I am most disappointed in my Councilwoman, Jean Marie Sutton. She claims to advocate for the schools and a supporter of the students. But when it comes to making the right call, she would rather tow the Republican line instead of standing up for the schools. When the schools really needed her, she would rather pretend to lower taxes than give the schools an extra 1% in their budget. I’m sure this is not the last time she will choose party over the town’s needs.

So where does this leave Stratford schools? Teachers are laid off, programs cut and potentially a school being closed. I hope that these things do not happen and that the schools can get their funding from outside programs and grants because the town council does not seem willing or able to do so.

Stand Up For School Funding

Time to Stop Depending on State Money

(it hasn’t worked so far!!!)

Mayor Hoydick and Town Council Members,

I’m asking you all to take a step back and consider increasing the budget for our Stratford Schools.  The Board of Education’s request for a 4.57% increase is not egregious, and in fact is a necessity if we are to improve our town’s viability!

Our students, teachers, and staff members have struggled through the pandemic, and in order to right the ship we need to bring our system up.

Superintendent Uyi Osunde has acknowledged that our public school system has been recognized as an Alliance District by the state, The Alliance District program is a unique and targeted investment in Connecticut’s lowest-performing districts,” Osunde wrote. “We are one of three other districts added to the Alliance District list which was compiled using pre-pandemic accountability index data. While this is not the optimal news we want, it comes with some pragmatic opportunities for improvement driven by the district’s overall strategy to improve academic performance and achievement for its children.”

Are we again going to the “state well” to obtain funding for our schools?  You do know that eventually the well runs dry.

Question:  If you were, an investor looking for a vibrant community to bring your business to, or a person looking to relocate, would being designated, as an Alliance District and Distressed Community be the elements that would influence you? I think not.

In a January 26th, 2022, article in Investopedia (a publication that targets experienced investors, business owners, professionals, financial advisors, and executives) the importance of a strong school system was detailed.

Key Takeaways from the article was:

  • The knowledge and skills of workers available in the labor supply are a key determinant for both business and economic growth.
  • Industries with higher education and training requirements tend to pay workers higher wages.
  • Differences in training levels is a significant factor that separates developed and developing countries.
  • An economy’s productivity rises as the number of educated workers increases, since skilled workers can perform tasks more efficiently.

Instead of giving 11 Mayoral appointed employees (all of whom have a generous salary and benefit package) salary increases of between 8-12% you should reconsider their increases.  Though on paper the amount may not be the millions needed to lift our schools, “every penny helps”.

Thank you for your consideration.

Barbara Heimlich

 

 

 

 

It’s Time to Reinvest in our Future

The Soap Box

By Timothy Bristol
https://www.linkedin.com/in/tim-bristol/

It’s Time to Reinvest in our Future

The State of Connecticut has had a turnaround in its budget problems in the last few years. The state is set to have a surplus of around 6 billion dollars and it’s time that we reinvest in a few areas that have been cut in the past to make up the holes in the budget. One of those areas, in particular, is the Connecticut State University and community college system.

For years, the state has cut budgets and asked for more cuts when they needed to reduce spending. As a result, the Connecticut public universities have had to raise tuition at higher rates than it otherwise would have. I was at a hearing in Hartford a few years back, before the Covid pandemic, where the Higher Education committee was considering bills for free or debt-free public college. That year they did end up passing the free community college program into law. A program that provided 2 years of free community college to residents that applied

While at that hearing, I was waiting to testify about how the state could relieve the growing student debt crisis. Before I spoke the committee called up the Connecticut State University Regents President for his testimony on the various bills up for consideration.

He spoke about how the State public college system must raise tuitions to make up for the lack of state funding and that the state can’t cut its budgets again because there is no more money to give. I will always remember when he said “You can’t get blood from a rock, there is no more that we can cut.”

This stuck in my head for quite some time. I was a student at the time and about to complete my bachelor’s degree. I had seen and felt many of the changes that the college system implemented in order to cut costs and consolidate. They reduced administrative costs by combining the university and community college systems under one administration. I felt the rise in tuition and talked to many professors and colleagues who were frustrated at budgets that had been cut.

It is time for the general assembly and the governor to reinvest in our public colleges. The burden of tuition that is rising faster than inflation is going to become too much for students even with grants and loans.

If the state wants to keep young people in the state, they need to provide the college programs and the funding to allow those students to get the high-tech and STEM jobs that are waiting to be filled in Connecticut.

The General assembly could also expand the free college program to more than just the community colleges or at least make Connecticut public colleges debt-free.
We have a great public college system here in Connecticut, but it needs investment and we should start prioritizing higher education again.

Letter to the Editor

State Representative Ben McGorty (R)
122nd District
Shelton, Stratford, Trumbull

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

House and Senate Republicans held a press conference on Thursday morning to outline their proposal for tax relief to make Connecticut more affordable for residents. Inflation is here, and relief must be too.
Affordable Connecticut

The Problem: Connecticut’s state budget is benefitting from inflation as the state sales tax and gas tax brings in new, unplanned for revenue – a result of surging prices.

Meanwhile, CT residents are struggling to balance their own family budgets with no relief in sight as inflation drives up the costs of everything – from food to energy to home heating oil.

The Response: Connecticut Republicans want to direct the influx in tax revenue back to residents and provide relief from the crushing impact of inflation.

Connecticut has a balanced budget, approved with bipartisan support. Inflation is resulting in an over taxation of CT residents. That over taxation must not be used to grow the size of Government to unsustainable levels. It must be returned to struggling families.

Reduce Income Tax For Working- And Middle-Class
Lower the income tax rate from 5% to 4% for individuals earning less than $75,000 and joint filers earning less than $175,000 annually. Total Tax Relief: $386.6 million

Reduce The Sales Tax + Eliminate 1% Meals Tax
Reduce the sales tax from 6.35% to 5.99% and eliminate the additional 1% meals tax on prepared foods from grocery stores and restaurants through the end of calendar year 2022. Total Tax Relief: $248.5 million

Extend Gas Tax Holiday Extend state excise tax suspension through the end of 2022. Total Tax Relief: $180 million

Expand Gas Tax Holiday To Diesels Cut the tax on diesel by 20 cents through end of 2022. Total Tax Relief: $38.7 million ($9.7 million FY 22, $29 million FY 23)
Eliminate Highway Use Tax (Truck Tax) Total Tax Relief: $45 million

Eliminate Income Tax On Pension And Annuities Increases deduction from 56% to 100% in 2022 & beyond. Total Tax Relief: $42.9 million
Increase Property Tax Credit: Expand eligibility for the state’s property tax credit. Total Tax Relief: $53 million
Cut New Tax On Job Creators: Dedicate the remaining $224.8 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to repay the state’s Unemployment Trust Fund Loan. Total Tax Relief: $224.8 million
The state budget is in surplus and is already directing a record amount of excess revenue to pay down on the state’s pension debt, a policy adopted in the 2017 bipartisan budget.
In addition, Connecticut is expected to collect nearly $1 billion MORE in state sales tax and gross receipts tax revenue than originally projected in fiscal year 2022 and 2023.

This proposal uses that windfall over taxation revenue to provide $994.5 million in tax relief, as well as $224.8 million in remaining American Rescue Plan Act funds to help pay back the state’s unemployment trust fund loan. This totals over $1.2 billion in relief.

Connecticut can deliver the proposed tax relief contained in this proposal without impacting the state budget at all. We respect all financial protections, including the spending cap, revenue cap, bonding cap, and volatility cap. We continue to contribute a record amount to the state’s budget reserve fund and invest in paying down on our pension debt.

This proposal is revenue neutral. It returns to CT residents the windfall revenue created by surging inflation with resulted in an over collection of taxes.

The growth in these revenues above and beyond the revenue already counted on in the state budget will allow for substantial relief for all Connecticut families to get through the most difficult months ahead.

Please do not hesitate to reach me regarding any state issues.

Rep. Ben McGorty
ben.mcgorty@housegop.ct.gov

The Pandemic is Not Over…Entirely

The Soap Box

By Timothy Bristol
https://www.linkedin.com/in/tim-bristol/

As we go into the summer and the fall of 2022 and people gather for large events and family parties I think we must acknowledge that the Covid pandemic is not entirely over. I know that we are all exhausted by the now 2 plus years of the pandemic and it has taken its toll on everyone. But as recently as last week our governor and lieutenant governor contracted Covid and they are vaccinated and have the booster shots. This shows that Covid is going to be a constant in our lives at least for the foreseeable future.

I got my booster shot this past week and I advocate that everyone get vaccinated and boosted if you can do so. I got Covid back in December 2021 and it was the worst experience I have ever had. While I did not have to go to the hospital because I was vaccinated, I was very sick even after the 10-day quarantine was over. I did not fully recover for weeks. I couldn’t taste or smell anything for a month and those senses have only now really recovered. It was a month-long illness that I do not wish to repeat.

Aside from the symptoms of Covid (which were awful) the isolation of quarantine is something I never want to experience again. Not being able to have physical contact or to even be in the same room as my wife for 10 plus days was excruciating and took away a valuable coping mechanism for the fear of having Covid and getting worse. I would not wish that on anyone.

I know that we have made great progress in fighting Covid and have largely returned to our lives. While we have returned to a kind of normal, I do not think that we should as a community or society shrug off Covid as done.

This week the states Covid test positivity rate rose above 5% for the first time since the last wave. I don’t think that we need any more of the more extreme measures used in the past, but when positivity rates go up we should wear masks to protect others and ourselves. In addition, if you feel sick you should stay home and get tested. We all should follow that basic standard practice.

We have learned a lot since the beginning of the pandemic, but I think that we are also in danger of forgetting the struggle of the last two years. I do not want to get Covid again, and it is very easy to avoid.

Wear a mask when it seems necessary and just be cautious when spikes come in the positivity rates. On the Food Truck, we always have a supply of masks in case we need them, and we always have sanitizer available for the customers and us.  As long as we are vigilant and take proper precautions, I think we can have a good summer. The Covid pandemic is not over, and while it seems to be more of an afterthought in the media, we should still take it seriously.

The Soap Box

Affordable Housing Part 2

By Timothy Bristol
https://www.linkedin.com/in/tim-bristol/

Last week I spoke to Professor Wharton (Dr. Jonathan Wharton, a Professor of Political Science at Southern Connecticut State University. Dr. Wharton has focused on policy towards Planning and Urban development). I spoke with him about his take on Affordable Housing.about the basics of what affordable housing is, and its Pros and Cons.

This week I would like to take a deep dive into the housing market and why affordable housing is needed. According to the Pew Research center in 2021, about half of all Americans surveyed said that home affordability was a major problem where they live. The group most affected by this is younger Americans who say that they have a harder time buying a home than their parents did.

There is a variety of factors that have created this situation including wage stagnation, inflation in home prices, a slowdown in new home construction, the Covid pandemic, and a surge in home buying. I know here in Stratford and all over Fairfield County, we have seen the increased sales of homes from those looking to leave New York City. This has driven up home prices in the area. Nationally this kind of home buying has driven the median home price to about 408,000 dollars nationwide, which is a 25% jump from the median home price in 2019 of 327,000 dollars. [1]

Another factor in the affordability of homes is the availability of homes for sale. There has been a 60% decrease in listings of homes for sale since 2019. This decrease is partly because of the increase in home sales but also due to a decrease in new home construction early in the pandemic. New home construction was ground to a halt, and high building cost material has kept new home building from reaching its previous pace. [1]

Of course, the other option for housing is to rent. Renters have seen an 18% increase in rent over the last 5 years. This has outpaced the rate of inflation. According to the Pew Research Center, about half of all renters spend 30% or more of their income on housing.

The thinking on affordability and housing policy had been that 30% of income is the most a family should spend on housing and still be able to save money. However, the thinking on this policy is changing due to the inflation of rental costs.

Harvard University has proposed a new affordable housing policy known as the Residual Income Approach, which estimates the cost of necessities such as food, health care, transportation, and childcare. Those expenses are subtracted from a household’s income. This calculation produces the amount and share of income that the household members can spend on housing and still have enough left over to cover other necessities. If households spend more on housing than the residual income approach indicates is feasible, they presumably cut back spending on other essential items. [2]

The idea is that his new calculation could help renters and potential homeowners determine what is affordable to them, compared to just using the flat 30% of income calculation. This idea is just one of many affordable housing policy ideas that are being researched to help those who are being pushed out of the housing market or cannot afford the rising rent costs.

[1] Pew Research, Key Facts about housing affordability in the U.S., 2022

[2] Chris Herbert, et al. “Is There a Better Way to Measure Housing Affordability?” Is There a Better Way to Measure Housing Affordability? | Joint Center for Housing Studies, 26 Sept. 2018

Stratford Threatened by Zoning Changes of Single Family Homes

By Save Our Stratford Zoning

On Wednesday, March 16th over 30 concerned Stratford residents showed up at Paradise Pizza to discuss a developer’s request of a zone change on Broadbridge Avenue from Emerald to Barnum Ave.  The developer is seeking to have the zone changed from a single-family zone to a multi-family zone.

The developer has purchased two houses side by side.  Our understanding is that they would like to build up to 25 to 30 multi-family homes/units per acre.

House values will decrease!  Traffic will increase greatly!

Please go to the link below to sign the petition and add your comment.  The petition is not limited to one email address per household.  Everyone in your home over the age of 18 can add to keeping Stratford zoned as single family homes as it is today.  In addition, interested parties to help by signing the petition can be of friends and families that share the same feeling as us.

To sign on-line go to:

https://www.change.org/p/stratford-zoning-commission-stratford-threatened-by-zoning-changes-of-single-family-homes

  • You now have made a difference! Thank you for caring about Stratford as you know it.

Letters for better clarification or your input can be written or emailed to:

Jay Habansky
Stratford Town Hall
Planning and Zoning
2725 Main Street Stratford
(203)385-4017

Jay Habansky’s email:
JHabansky@TownOfStratford.Com

Jay will receive letters and forward them to be documented and read at the town meetings.

Editor’s Note:

Gold Coast Properties, LLC, a Stratford-based developer, wants to change Single-Family Zoning to Multi-Family Zoning in order to build around 35 units of housing per acre of land along both sides of Broadbridge Ave in Stratford.

According to one resident speaking out at the Zoning Commission meeting on January 28th, “Not only will our property values decrease, but so will our quality of life. This large development will increase traffic to an already dangerous road, which has no sidewalks, limited public transportation, and multiple lanes of speeding traffic. The increase in population will strain our already overcrowded school system, increases traffic, and possibly overburden our sewage system. When we bought our homes, we did so believing that the town zoning board would follow its own rules and regulations, instead of decreasing our property values and putting our safety at risk in order for a developer to profit. If this change goes through for Broadbridge Avenue, what will stop the same thing from happening in the rest of our town?

 

Letters To The Editors

Overfunding of Registrar of Voters Office

By: David Mullane

Dear Council members,

Since 2014 Stratford has been overfunding the Registrar of Voters office by paying the registrars full time pay for what is really a part time position.

This change came about when Republican council member Jim Connor proposed the increase in March, 2014:

“Compensation For Office Of Registrar Of Voters Sponsored by: Hon. James Connor, Eighth District Council Member BE IT Hereby Resolved That commencing with the fiscal year 2014-2015 and continuing until modified by the Council, the compensation for the Office of Registrar of Voters shall be as follows: Each Registrar of Voters shall receive compensation for the performance of all his/her duties.

The work week for the Registrar of voters and the assistants, shall consist of 37.5 hours per week for a total of five days, the same as the Town Employees. The hourly rate for the Registrars shall be $34.29. For the assistant the rate shall be 18.90. Additional overtime hours will be managed and handled under applicable federal and state statutes. Further benefits are appended as pages 15-18. Each Registrar of Voters shall further receive additional benefits during each fiscal year as follows: (a) two weeks paid vacation consisting of a total of 80 hours for registrars and 62 hours for assistant registrars of paid vacation: (b) ten days sick leave consisting of a total of 80 of paid sick leave for the Registrars and 64 hours for the assistant registrars of paid sick leave per fiscal year; (c) 8 hours of pay for each legal holiday, and mandatory closing i.e. snow, hurricane shutdown for which the Town Hall is closed for business; (d) health insurance coverage, if the Registrar or assistant registrar waives health insurance there will be an annual payout of 2500 dollars opting out of health care, vacation will be in accordance with __________and € One year’s annual salary Of life insurance coverage.

A Motion Was Made By Mr. Santi, Seconded By Mr. Connor To Approve The Foregoing Compensation Benefit Package. Mr. Connor Motioned To Amend, Seconded By Mr. Santi, By Inserting “Hourly” And “Federal And State” As Underscored Above And Deleting Paragraph Number 3. The Motion To Amend Carried With 9 In Favor And 1, Mr. Catalano, Opposed. The Motion To Approve The Benefit Package As Amended Carried With 9 In Favor And 1 Opposed (Mr. Catalano).

This change increased the RoV budget from $217,027 to $303,360 a 40% unnecessary cost raise.

Right next door to us in Milford they have the same size town in relation to voters and in 2014 they paid their RoV office $146,814 which is half of what we did that same year (over $150,000 in savings for the same office).

Milford’s elected Registrars are P/T employees which is just what Stratford Registrars were until Republican councilman Jim Connor’s proposal made them full time. How has this benefited the town since 2014 we have spent over $1 million more than Milford for the same service and even when our registrars were part time we still spent more than Milford.

This year Milford is proposing to spent $177,674 on RoV while Mayor Hoydick in Stratford is proposing to spend $283,531 ( over $100,000 more for the same function of government).

I wrote to the current Democrat Registrar Jim Simon about this cost and his answer was it is not necessary to spent this kind of money the position should be returned to it’s part time status.

“On January 13th the mayor’s budget team asked municipal supervisors to submit their budget requests for 2022-23. On January 29th, I recommended, in writing, that for the Registrar of Voters office, “The payroll amount be reduced to reflect the two elected Registrar positions being moved from full-time to part-time status.” On February 15th, I met with the mayor and her budget team and explained my recommendation. On March 11th, the mayor released her budget recommendation, and the two positions remain full-time. The next step is for the Town Council to conduct its budget hearings.”, Jim Simon, Registrar of Voters

In my opinion Stratford should not be spending more than Milford does on RoV and we are just wasting money to reward the Republican Registrar who is also the SRTC chairman.

While the Republican mayor proposed this wasteful spending, and the Republicans are the majority on the council and can easily pass it again for a 9th straight budget.

I hope you will spotlight this wasteful spending in Budget workshops and at Town Council meeting in the questions to the mayor portion.

Can Mayor Hoydick explain why we need to spend this money. Can Councilman Jim Connor explain why he proposed this raise in 2014. Can CAO Tymniak justify this expense? His own hometown of Fairfield, where he was also treasurer pays their RoV less than Stratford, and Fairfield has 6000 more voters than Stratford, and Fairfield registrars are part time.

Thank you for your service to our town and you consideration on this matter.