May 25, 2013
Written by The Ridgefield Press
Monday, 07 November 2011 05:32
Budgeting, managing debt, the Board of Finance has big job. The Press asked questions on the issues of all candidates for the finance board.There are five candidates — three Democrats and two Republicans — competing for three open seats on the finance board. One, Democrat Dave Ulmer, currently serves on the finance board. And two, Republican John Palermo and Democrat Paul Sutherland, are completing terms as school board members. Another, Republican Steven Coury, serves on the Zoning Board of Appeals. Democrat Jessica Mancini is the owner of two local businesses and a third-generation Ridgefielder.
With close to $99 million in outstanding debt, where do you stand on prospective additions to the debt burden that include $7 million to buy the Schlumberger property and a contribution of perhaps $5 million to the library’s $20-million expansion.
Ulmer: Not purchasing Schlumberger creates a significant risk of high-density development (400 condos) in the next five to 10 years. Not funding the library risks of having to make costly repairs, approaching the $5-million requested town contribution towards a $20M new library, to our most used public building. Because Ridgefield pays down $10 million outstanding principal annually, we could finance both without a net addition to our debt, maintaining the town’s “sound overall financial condition.” As with the Bundle and Bennett’s Pond, voters should be allowed to decide priorities for Ridgefield’s acquisition of long-term assets.
Sutherland: I favor funding $5 million for library expansion because (a) it would be part of a public-private partnership where private donations would have to reach $15 million before the town spends a dime, and (b) the public library is one of the most valuable and heavily used assets in Town.
The Schlumberger purchase is more problematic. The first proposal to the BOF would have required the town to put only $1 million at risk, rather than $7 million. I am undecided on the new proposal, as I’m not convinced that is the only way to control development on the property.
Mancini: If the Schlumberger property is cleared of all environmental issues, then this purchase should be determined by the voters. Let’s learn from our mistakes with Bennett’s Pond.
Ridgefield’s library is the most used building by all ages in town. With current repairs totaling over $5 million, the library should raise more than $15 million if possible; but I believe it’s a worthwhile investment and voters should make the decision.
We currently pay down $10 million per year in debt, but we must prioritize our capital projects with a 5-10 year capital budget plan to provide a financial blueprint.
Coury: Our debt must be reduced. The $14 million in annual debt service would fund both projects. The library is a wise investment. Three-quarters of the cost has been raised by the library, and Ridgefield will spend more renovating the current facility. Operating costs of the proposed facility are not expected to increase, and there’s high demand for the library’s services.
Conversely, there is no proposed use for the Schlumberger property. We will lose $200,000 annually in tax revenue, and add at least $30,000 in maintenance costs. We need a long-term vision for Ridgefield before approving this purchase.
Palermo: Ridgefield residents know what makes our town desirable. The ongoing debate about our vision to improve Ridgefield includes: Acquisition of Schlumberger property ($7 million); funding a new library ($5 million); building a gas line to the high school (Estimated $5-7 million); and of course, the ongoing investment in our schools ($80 million 2011-2012 budget). Projects of this size and scope require a financial plan that is sustainable. I support doing these things as long as our selectmen outline their vision for the town and present a detailed plan on how we can afford these initiatives, while making sure Ridgefield lives within its means and maintains a healthy financial position.
The current $79.2-million school budget went up 1.81% from the previous $77.8 million budget for 2010-11. What would you like to see for next year’s school budget and why?
Ulmer: With difficult times, another austerity budget is necessary. However, it should cover all contractual increases in salaries (3%), benefits, and transportation. It legally must cover difficult-to-predict special education costs. Savings found elsewhere could recover FY12 cuts in technology and curriculum development. There should be no further program cuts. We need to fund Ridgefield’s education system. Not doing so harms our children, jeopardizes long-term property values and decreases Ridgefield’s quality of life.
Sutherland: In the last three years, school budgets have increased 1-2%, compared to increases of 4-7% in the preceding three years. By contract, teachers’ salaries will go up by 3% next year, and benefits (primarily health insurance) are projected to increase by about 7%. Salaries and benefits are about 80% of the total budget. Given these constraints, I hope the Board of Education can keep the overall increase as close to 3%, or below, as possible.
Mancini: The austerity school budget increase was less than the contractual increases due to savings elsewhere. The 2012-13 school budget needs to be efficient, sustainable and determined by the voters. The contractual teacher increase for next year is 3%; therefore the BOE needs to do a better job of increasing teacher participation in the HSA.
The current majority on the BOF makes their decisions behind closed doors ignoring public input. I will be transparent in all decisions.
Coury: We must adequately fund schools in good times and bad. A diminished educational opportunity for a child cannot be made up a later year. I want a budget that at least covers contractual increases in salaries, keeps up with inflation, and allocates less to non-classroom expenses and more to the classroom. Further savings through healthcare savings accounts and energy efficiency can help fund additional educational priorities determined by the Board of Education.
Palermo: The BOE needs to bring forward a budget that continues to focus on improving the high quality of education Ridgefield has come to expect.
They also need to continue to focus on reducing spending in non-educational areas and move more money to the classroom. More people in the HSA’s (Health Savings Accounts) are a good example of this movement, along with work on energy reductions and technology improvements.
Why should voters choose you for the finance board?
Ulmer: I have worked hard serving all Ridgefielders since 2003. As the architect of JetBlue’s growth, retiring in 2007, my in-depth analysis led to objective understanding of issues and highly successful decision-making. I listen and collaborate. My skills have made my service uniquely effective, and I ask to be re-elected.
Sutherland: Voters should choose me because of my 35 years of finance experience, four years of work on the Ridgefield Board of Education and my demonstrated commitment to fact-based planning and decision making. I vow to meet the needs and desires of voters while maintaining the town’s sound overall financial condition.
Mancini: There is no candidate more invested in Ridgefield than me. I founded two successful businesses, own a home, and my family is here —grandparents Gene and Joyce Lavatori, parents, and children. Keeping taxes affordable, while maintaining services, is important. I will have the interests of families, businesses, children and seniors at the forefront of all my decisions.
Coury: As a third-generation Ridgefielder and graduate of the Ridgefield schools, I understand the balance between our schools, town services, and taxes. I have degrees in law and economics, and represent clients in the debt markets and before rating agencies. With four children, I am fully invested in Ridgefield and its future.
Palermo: I bring the necessary skills, combined with a successful track record, in both business and town government, of providing real solutions for complex problems. I have a MBA in finance, I’m a 33-year executive with IBM (30 in finance), and I currently serve on the BOE (four years).
|< Prev||Next >|