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Mark Rebuts Herbsts' Municipal Spending

Martha Jankovic-Mark
Martha Jankovic-Mark

The following is the opinion of First Selectman Candidate Martha Jankovic Mark in response to First Selectman Tim Herbst.

By Martha Jankovic-Mark 

I want to offer some initial proposals for municipal policy in a Martha Jankovic-Mark Administration, but before I do, I have a few observations about the First Selectman Tim Herbst’s rambling, ‘speak-before-you-think’ statement to the media last week.

 

Right out of the gate, the first thing our town leader did, characteristically, was to accuse me and other Democrats of lying and being deceitful. It’s an old pattern with Mr. Herbst, and it’s a significant character flaw. It’s impossible for him to understand that political opponents can have disagreements and criticize each other without calling one another “liars" and “deceitful.”

Herbst won’t ever change his schoolyard-bully persona. And, really, this is not a particularly critical campaign issue. But the people of the town deserve better.

More problematic are the number of distortions in his statement. Here’s what’s true:

True: The 34 percent increase in sewer-user fees belongs to Herbst and his Water Pollution Control Authority. It’s not related, as he wants you to believe, to a 20-year-old contract with Bridgeport.

 

True: The Herbst-controlled Town Council sets the amount of money the Board of Education spends. So he can point to the budgets requests of the school board all he wants—he knows that board doesn’t determine the budget.

 

True: Herbst shifted $10 million in sewer costs to all taxpayers, claiming they’re road costs and should be borne by the whole town. What he won’t say is that this is the first time that costs have had to be shifted in that manner, and that $2 million of those costs are for the sewer-project oversight firm, which was hired by Herbst to contain sewer-construction costs. The project went over budget anyway.

True: Pension liabilities have been a problem in Trumbull through Democratic and Republican administrations, and both sides have attempted to fix them. Herbst has increased contributions to the pension liability, but failed to live up to his own campaign promise of applying 25 percent of all surpluses to the pension funds. As a result, the funding ratios—the amount of money in the funds compared to the actual fully-funded status—for both the police and town-employee pensions have gotten worse under Mr. Herbst.

True: Spending and taxes have gone up significantly under Herbst. Don’t let him try to say otherwise. Car taxes have increased by more than 20 percent. Sewer-user taxes have just gone up by 34 percent. Spending has increased by more than 13 percent in four years, and non-education spending has increased by more than 17 percent. Without the fortuitous revaluation, residential property taxes would have increased far more than they did.

 

Those are facts. It’s not “lying” and it’s not “deceit.”

Now, back when he was running for office in 2009, Mr. Herbst claimed that budgets would increase at the rate of inflation minus 1 percent, or he’d veto them. He claimed that he’d adhere to zero-based budgeting.

So much for easy promises.

Here’s a Martha Jankovic-Mark initiative. In my first budget as first selectman, I will hold all spending except for contractual obligations at their prior-year levels. I will do that even if I have to reduce some lines as others increase. Our taxpayers deserve as much. That’s real zero-based budgeting, not the sleight-of-hand variety that Herbst likes. 

Tom Kelly August 22, 2013 at 04:42 AM
I think that Democrats have, and continue to be, very consistent in their messaging about Herbst's spending priorities. No strategy, in my opinion, has failed. Mr. Herbst promised Trumbull in his Blueprint for Trumbull's Future to veto any budget that exceeded inflation plus 1%. That was his promise. Four years in a row, he broke his promise to Trumbull, and he budget he PROPOSED broke his own promise. Tim Herbst promised to move 25% of all surplus monies into the underfunded town pension plans. He did not do so, another broken promise. What can easily be highlighted by an analysis of spending is the misplaced priorities. Education received a far lower percentage increase during the Herbst administration than town-side budget areas. That's a fact, and the result is an increase in participation fees and many real cuts to our school system.
trumbullguy August 22, 2013 at 08:30 AM
Thank you for sticking to the facts Tom. To fully disclose, I am not a big Herbst fan either. But my problem with the current Democratic party is that you are really all fiscal conservatives. Some questions I would ask any of you, including Martha ,would be along the lines of where your loyalties are. If Ray was running again, with the same tax and spend policy, would you be supporting him? MArthas latest proposal sounds like she is a REpublican in Congress...she wants to cut spending, and decrease taxes. Depending on MArtha's next couple of statements and promises, I will be deciding who to vote for. I have to be skeptical when you bring up Herbst's broken promises, and think, how can Mrs. Mark keep even more dramatic ones? this is my current thinking, and I would love to hear your response.
Tom Kelly August 23, 2013 at 07:31 AM
Trumbullguy, thank you for your reasonable response. I want to start by saying that we could all have a better discussion of issues if we would all start by understanding that there are many different opinions, but we are all neighbors and we should be able to disagree and solve problems together without the current political toxicity. Now, to your points...I have looked at this carefully, and there were three main drivers of spending during the Baldwin years....first, we increased enrollment in our public schools by 800 students and added two new schools in TECEC and Frenchtown. 800 additional students in the schools is VERY expensive and that was the main driver of those tax increases. Paying for that education is not a "tax and spend" policy. The second driver was we invested tens of millions of dollars in bonding to buy up property to be kept as "open space." While that has certainly preserved the beauty and character of Trumbull, I think an argument can be made that we didn't have the money to buy as much as we did. Third, the town continue to expand the number of homes that have city sewers and again, that costs money to do and the town taxpayers pick up 1/4 of those costs.
Tom Kelly August 23, 2013 at 07:41 AM
Now, going forward, we have to prioritize spending wisely. I believe it is imperative to develop a long term plan and share it with Trumbull residents...a real "road map" for the future that is a cohesive plan everyone can get behind, rather than a document that was full of political promises and was quickly discarded such as the one Herbst developed in 2009. For example, we MUST have a plan that addresses how do we update the seven schools in Trumbull that are older than Trumbull High. The Hillcrest Pool is 45 years old, Tashua pool is 43 years old, and Beach Pool is over 50 years old. We have to have a plan to tend to the infrastructure in this town, or we will have to fix everything in a much more costly way if we keep kicking the can down the road. Herbst talked a good game about take home cars, cell phones, and town hiring, but all those things are still going on. Now many have "i-Phones." We need to look at the pension plan not just in terms of contributions, but in terms of PERFORMANCE and management. Why does all the focus go to how much is contributed and then we spend no time on how the funds are PERFORMING? Why are the pension funds less fully funded in 2012 than they were in 2008? These are the questions I ask from a financial perspective and I am looking at a far broader picture than just the percentage increase in an election year. I also look at the top ten towns in 2013 in Fairfield County for median home price appreciation and Trumbull is not on that list...we should also be looking at how our home values are doing under this administration.
trumbullguy August 23, 2013 at 07:24 PM
thanks tom. very fair response and I appreciate it.

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