Mayoral hopeful questions town's finances
Updated 10:46 am, Thursday, June 2, 2011
Newly declared mayoral candidate Jeff Winter is again voicing concern about New Milford town finances.
Mr. Winter said he started reviewing budgets and audits of the past few years after the "contentious budget season" of 2009-10.
Through the review, he said, he came to believe "there is not the fiscal discipline on the town side of the budget that some would have you think."
Mayor Pat Murphy declined to defend her budgeting of town finances.
"I'm in support of low taxes," said the mayor, leaving it at that.
Mr. Pilla said Mr. Winter "does not understand the complexities of town budgeting."
Mr. Winter has produced charts and graphs he had developed from reviews of audits from 2004-2010 and alleges "growth in town government has been 100 percent greater than that of the schools."
That fact has been "masked" by the drop in debt service, he added.
"There's no magic to why taxes have stayed low through the Murphy administration," Mr. Winter said. "Debt service is dropping, as it is supposed to as the debt is paid off."
Spending for the late-1990s schools project "legitimately peaked debt service" during the Democratic Robert Gambino administration, he said.
Now that Mayor Murphy has successfully navigated through another "election-year budget season keeping taxes down," debt service is about to spike again, Mr. Winter said.
With a newly updated sewer plant soon coming on line, $24 million in debt will occur, he added.
Mayor Murphy's intention to bring a new road repairs bond of $12.5 million would add to that debt, he said.
"What's unfair to the taxpayers is that road bonds were not discussed during budget season," Mr. Winter said.
Mr. Pilla sees the matter from a different stance.
"The debt service for the high school is dropping... that's a good thing," Mr. Pilla said. "The retiring of old debt gives an opportunity to take on new debt, to move on new projects."
The sewer plant, through fees, would reimburse the taxpayers, he noted. The mayor bringing in federal grants for the reconstruction of Grove Street and Housatonic Avenue kept down the cost of capital improvements, he added.
"There are contractual obligations and the need for capital improvements," Mr. Pilla said. "We have a unique demographic in our population. We have residents on fixed incomes."
"There's a fine balance to providing the community's needs while not driving people out of town through taxation," Mr. Pilla concluded.