A Town Council-appointed committee promoted recently as a way for New Milford's town and school leaders to brainstorm financial efficiencies has sparked a furor.

Ire emerged quickly among those who fear the new entity will become a political tool to strong-arm school leaders.

Repeated assurances the seven-member committee is not meant to usurp the school district's autonomy didn't qualm the concerns of a local resident and several Democrats who worry it's less about efficiencies than pushing for lower school budgets.

At last week's council meeting, resident Jeff Winter opposed Mayor Patricia Murphy's appointment of Beth Falder, an unaffiliated, political newcomer who just two weeks ago was appointed as an alternate to the Board of Finance.

The Town Council voted 7-2 to endorse the mayor's appointment.

Mayor Murphy picked Ms. Falder over the Board of Finance's recommendation of two of its regular members, Republican Mark Vendetti and Democrat Frank Wargo.

As three Republicans had already been selected, Mr. Wargo appeared the likely candidate.

The mayor said she selected Ms. Falder because she has a fresh perspective. During the budget season, she did her own analysis of town and school spending to see where cost savings could be found, the mayor noted.

Mr. Winter, the vice-chairman of the Economic Development Commission and a vocal education advocate, said based on this latest appointment -- one posted on a revised Town Council agenda late Friday afternoon -- he is concerned the mission is not as he initially envisioned.

If the council were to be "serious'' about finding ways to finance government, both town and schools, it would rely on elected veterans with financial experience, he said. Mr. Winter added he clearly objects to a committee focused just on educational frugality.

Democratic councilman Walter Bayer said he appreciates the spirit of the new committee, but will not support any efforts to "damage the quality of education in this community.

"I don't want to see a chessboard set up for battle,'' Mr. Bayer said.

Republican councilman Pete Bass, who first proposed this committee, reiterated his intent to promote dialogue between town and school leaders and find cost savings in all departments. All public input would be welcome, he said.

The entire exercise is meant to find ways "we can do business better,'' Mr. Bass concluded.

Members of the committee are Republican Town Council members Pete Bass and Cecilia Buck-Taylor; Democratic Town Council member Mary Jane Lundgren; Republican Board of Education chairman Wendy Faulenbach; Democratic ed board member Thomas McSherry; New Milford First ed board member Alexandra Thomas; and unaffiliated Board of Finance member Beth Falder.

The committee will meet through Dec. 31.