January 7, 2010

Fedele tells Vernon council to budget conservatively and ‘hope for the best’ with state funding

Fedele tells Vernon council to budget conservatively and ‘hope for the best’ with state funding

VERNONLt. Gov. Michael Fedele’s primary reason to visit town Tuesday was to praise emergency workers for an ice rescue last week, but dour fiscal predictions quickly dominated a meeting with the Town Council.

“My message tonight is that as a community and as a state we need to make sure we’re watching our pennies,” Fedele told council members.

Fedele, a Republican from Stamford, originally was invited to the council meeting to present a proclamation to the Fire Department from Gov. M. Jodi Rell for saving a man who fell through the ice on Risley Reservoir on Dec. 27.

After Fedele delivered the proclamation, however, the focus of the evening quickly became the state’s precarious financial position. As of this week, there is a nearly 9 percent unemployment rate with estimates on the current fiscal year’s budget deficit ranging from $300 million to $500 million. Analysts project a built-in, annual deficit starting in 2011 that tops $3 billion.

Republican council member Daniel Anderson asked Fedele what Vernon should expect next fiscal year, which begins July 1, “Can we budget for even state revenue, 3 percent less, 5 percent less? What’s your best advice to us?”

“I would try to come in with as conservative a number as possible that you could sustain and then hope for the best. …Maybe do a couple what-ifs,” he said.

Republican Mayor Jason L. McCoy asked how much of the town’s budget is funded by the state.
Town Finance Officer James Luddecke said the figure is approximately 23 percent.
“So 23 cents on the dollar then,” Fedele said.

Tuesday night’s live televised visit could have been considered a brief whistle stop on the gubernatorial campaign trail, but Fedele focused on the budget and wasn’t making any promises to local officials.

“I would love to say we can continue to give you 23 cents on the dollar in 2012, but I’m telling you today that there are those folks who are projecting a $3 billion hold and we haven’t even gotten there,” he said. “We don’t even know where things are going between now and 2012.”

Republican council member Mark Etre and others encouraged Fedele to re-examine unfunded state mandates that put added pressure on already cash-strapped municipalities, and also to keep in check unnecessary Department of Transportation projects.

Democratic council member Michael Winkler was clearly frustrated with a lack of interest in a steeply progressive income tax or continued increases in the high-earners, or millionaires, tax to help close the state budget gap. “That tax has brought in very little money even though the rate has increased, because, quite frankly, the dollars aren’t there,” Fedele said. “Progressively increasing taxes does not bring jobs back. …We do not believe that a progressive income tax will do that.”

Fedele acknowledged the struggles facing the town and commended the council for its work in maintaining a delicate fiscal balance. “All these things are very difficult. I know that you here on a local level wrestle with it all the time. I think overall you do a very good job of managing those dollars,” Fedele said.

“There’s nothing that I see… that is telling us that we’re going to see a robust increase in revenue to the state,” Fedele said.

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