Loud minority, vague message

While a solid majority of voters gave their approval to a proposed $33.7 million budget at Monday night’s annual town budget meeting, the usual small but vocal minority spoke out against the proposal. While the voices of the budget opponents were loud, their message was unclear.

First to rise in opposition to the budget was resident Jay Budahazy, who called the proposed spending package “perhaps the poorest budget that we’ve ever had in this town.” He referred vaguely to revenue “guesstimates” that he said “are way over what they should be,” but did not offer any specific line items to cut.

Eventually, Budahazy proposed a motion that was clearly improper, to send the budget back to selectmen for review.

Town Attorney Kevin Nelligan pointed out that the purpose of the annual town budget meeting is for townspeople to make cuts to the budget, if agreed upon, and send it to a referendum. He encouraged moderator Judy Dixon to rule the motion out of order, which she did.

Others in the crowd who spoke out against the budget are some of the town’s fiscal hawks, but their message seemed to be that the proposed budget is underfunded. Residents John Gauger and James Roberts complained incorrectly that the proposal “does nothing” to address Winsted’s current fiscal shortfall of nearly $3 million and that it does not adequately address infrastructure needs.

When fiscal hawks go up against a budget for being too low, something sounds fishy, and it appears these residents are only interested in seeing the budget fail.

Town Manager Dale Martin noted that a 1-mill increase is included in the budget to boost the town’s anemic fund balance and that $400,000 per year will be coming to the town for the next 8 years from the water and sewer departments to address a shortage in revenues. In 2013-14 alone, this means there would be $1 million added to the budget to begin to address the town’s financial crisis.

Some of the speakers at Monday night’s meeting are well aware of the letter and spirit of the rules of the annual gathering. Instead of using the opportunity to recommend specific cuts to line items, they used the forum to make uninformed and misleading speeches. A silent majority watched in embarrassment, with many residents simply shaking their heads in disagreement.

The town meeting is a time-honored tradition in Winsted that stands honorably as a symbol of true representative democracy. It is unfortunate that a few misdirected individuals can make such a mockery of the process.