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Trumbull Dems: Trumbullites 'Deserve Transparency'

The democrats released their response to the First Selectman's State of the Town address Tuesday.

[Editor's Note: First Selectman Tim Herbst's speech text is attached as a PDF file.]

The people of Trumbull deserve transparency in their government. They deserve a full airing of the state of the town.  They are entitled to hear from their leaders a vision for our future. First Selectman Tim Herbst’s recent State of the Town Address fails on those counts. It gives only bits and pieces of the state of the town—the pieces favorable to the current administration.

In the response that follows, Trumbull Democrats will fill in the blanks and give our residents what they deserve. 

Unlike the current administration, which never gives credit to its predecessors for the good things in our town, we will begin by putting forward things we think are being done well by the current administration. We congratulate Public Works Director John Marsilio, Police Chief Tom Keily and their teams, plus the many volunteers on our EMS and Fire Departments, for their handling of emergencies like Hurricane Sandy and the recent blizzard. We support the addition of a chief of the EMS Service. We support the implementation of full-day kindergarten. We welcome the tone in the kind remarks made toward our incoming Superintendent, Gary Cialfi, who has our support and respect. We hope this will continue because it is in contrast to the finger pointing and harsh, unproductive rhetoric directed by First Selectman Herbst at our teachers, our administrators and our Board of Education.  

Now let us address Mr. Herbst’s speech itself.

It’s not too long into the speech that the familiar leader with the troubling need to manipulate facts surfaces.

“Because of increased commercial growth,” the first selectman said, “last year, for the first time since 1983, residential property taxpayers saw an average tax decrease of 3.5 percent.”

If increased commercial growth had produced an average tax decrease for residential property owners, that would be a major accomplishment indeed. 

But that’s not what happened. In actuality, the town had a property revaluation, as periodically it must under state law. Because so many residential properties lost value, residential taxes generally declined. Commercial properties did not decline in valuation as much, so those taxes increased. The marginal tax burden shifted from residences to commercial properties.

Town government spending increased by nearly 5 percent in 2012. It was masked by revaluation. Everywhere in town, taxes are increasing. The mill rate increased. Vehicle and personal property have increased by 22 percent in one year. Pay-to-participate fees have increased. Sewer-user fees have increased.

Put it another way: If your property value decreased by 20 percent, and your taxes only decreased by 3.5 percent, then your taxes increased.

Tim Herbst has a long history of manipulating facts. Even in this same State of the Town speech, just a few lines later, the first selectman said, “We have turned budget deficits into budget surpluses.”

The problem is that the deficits he claims never existed. Ever. Does First Selectman Herbst think no one is paying attention to town finances? That no one is paying attention to what he says?

Whatever there is to be said about the first selectman’s politics and his work for the town, this cannot be debated: It’s disturbing that where he could reasonably stand on truth, he opts instead to shade the truth.

Now we’ll spend a few minutes on some of the specifics the first selectman mentioned.

Economic Development

First Selectman Herbst noted an increase in construction activity and private investment, and there has been. There has been some Grand List growth too. The first selectman, however, neglected to note the vision of the Planning & Zoning and Commission in driving that growth, or the fact that when he was the obstructionist chairman of that same planning board, Grand List growth was the slowest in the region.

Similarly, Mr. Herbst cites the redevelopment of Trumbull Center as a crowning accomplishment. But he neglects to note that approval for that redevelopment was made under his predecessor. Nor does he acknowledge that the center today is in a far worse state than when he was vociferously criticizing it in 2009 for the alleged political favoritism granted to its owners. In Trumbull Center alone, such landmark stores as McKenzie's, Porricelli's and Marie's have closed their doors in recent weeks.

As for the update of the Plan of Conservation and Development, it is being updated now because the one Mr. Herbst presided over in 2006 proved to be inadequate.

Sewers

First Selectman Herbst’s speech completely neglected to mention the most contentious issue facing the town—and one of the most divisive issues in decades: Sewers. For nearly four years, residents of the North Nichols area have had to endure torn up roads and jarring driving conditions as a deeply personal and vitriolic feud has played out between the contractor and the first selectman. A consulting firm brought in three years ago to manage the project to completion—and supposed to pay for itself in project cost savings—has instead cost more than $2 million already, even as the overall project is expected to exceed budget by $2.5 million.

Worse, the first selectman, acting unilaterally in apparent divergence from the statutes and Town Charter, removed over $10 million in project costs from the sewer users and loaded them onto the backs of all Trumbull residents, including those who don’t even have sewer access.

Pension Funding

The first selectman rightfully points out the pension fund has been an “ailment” for years. He says that the town is beginning to see positive action, but the truth is this: The funding ratios have declined for both the police pension fund and the town employees’ fund. The police fund ratio declined from the high 60 percent range (of the recommended 100 percent) to the low 60 percent range. The Town Pension funding ratio declined from the low 30s to the high 20s. This is abysmal. The Democrats (and Mr. Herbst) promised to put a portion of surplus money into these plans. He did not keep his promise. This is the result. And what’s more, this decline has come during a historic stock market climb, begging the question of who’s managing the town’s investment strategy.

Elsewhere in town, things are unsettled as well. Residents are still wondering about the troubling loss of $70,000 in the embarrassing failed Michael Bolton concert. They’re wondering about the sacking and subsequent humiliation of the Trumbull Housing Authority board, executive director, and lawyer. They’re wondering at the unseemly attacks on town volunteers, like Town Council Minority Leader Martha Jankovic-Mark, whose only transgression was to volunteer her time to walk shelter dogs—and to be a Democrat.

The Democratic Party’s vision for our town is best seen in what we have achieved. We invested in education. As a result, we have an excellent school system that produces above-average results at a below-average cost per pupil. We invested in open space and the environment. As a result, we helped create an extensive park system—the jewel of our community.

We did these things and much more, together. Going forward, we commit to preserve the character of our town by preventing overdevelopment. We commit to adjusting the Town Charter to so that those who run for offices like the Town Council can play meaningful roles, not be relegated to powerlessness. We commit to restoring the position of recycling coordinator, which was inexplicably cut from the budget.  We commit to immediate improvements in the library system. We created one of the best senior tax-relief programs in the state, and we commit seeing that needy seniors receive the assistance they need and eliminating the new interest charge imposed on the needy by the Administration.

And perhaps most important, we commit to restoring something we’ve lost in the last three years: A tone of civility and respect for one another and for our community volunteers. Even the most wonderful town on earth will not be wonderful for long if their leaders engage in personal attacks simply because they either disagree with them or are of a different political perspective.  Let’s get Trumbull moving forward again.

John Kriz April 03, 2013 at 07:43 PM
"...if your property value decreased by 20% and your taxes only decreased by 3.5% then your taxes increased" is not logical. What I pay each year in property tax comes out of my yearly income. My house value has fluctuated over the 45 years I've lived here, just as it has in most areas of the country, and my house is worth a lot more that I paid originally, even if it is down from its all time high value. It doesn't matter as far as my budget is concerned. In any case, I certainly don't attribute our home values to our current First Selectman. Your attempt to tie the closing of Porricelli's, Marie's and McKenzie's to Tim Herbst makes no sense. Porricelli's closed three stores in three different communities. McKenzie's sold out to a chain as have small pharmacies across the country. Restaurants are reporting nationwide that business is down. In our free enterprise system there will be competition and continual change. We may not like it, but it is a real stretch to hang this on Tim Herbst. These flaws in your argument lead me to distrust your premise of bringing transparency.
Joan April 03, 2013 at 09:38 PM
The point the author is making is that Mr. Herbst "vociferously" criticized the previous First Selectman for the state of Trumbull Center back in 2009 when he first ran for this office. Yet, now the situation there is so much worse. If he was willing to blame it on Baldwin in 2009, then Herbst should step up and take some responsibility for it now that it's on his watch, shouldn't he?
Richard April 03, 2013 at 10:21 PM
Absolutely Joan, and he went so far as using pictures of both "the state of Trumbull Center and Resevoir Rd." in his campaign against Baldwin. John, unfortunately the facts of major issues in the last few years have been so well obscured and rewritten that it's very hard to know the truth. Unfortunately, it may not show until way in the future. Be thankful that your house's value appreciated over the years and that your kids were educated in well staffed, resources and modernized schools. The future though for this town with such vitriol, divisiveness, and manipulation of facts, remains in doubt.
John Kriz April 03, 2013 at 10:55 PM
No, Joan, he shouldn't. It is neither Ray Baldwin's fault nor Tim Herbst' fault. It's a non-issue. You can, however, make an issue of "he said" and "we said" but that will never win an election.
John Kriz April 03, 2013 at 11:15 PM
I will respectfully disagree. I see the future of this town as bright. For the Democrats to be successful they must say exactly what they would do differently. Attacks on our tax rate indicate that you think taxes should be lower. What do you propose to cut in order to lower taxes? Are you saying our schools will not be well staffed in the future? I trust Tim Herbst to protect our school system. I'm willing to accept reasonable, well planned tax increases, but certainly not the huge tax increases of the previous administration. Why not put forth a real plan for the future, rather than this constant "he said. she said" stuff? You will certainly need more than I've seen in the Patch comments to win the next election.
Richard April 04, 2013 at 01:46 AM
John, I do appreciate the civil dialogue. I am not convinced that Tim Herbst is for the school system. He made an issue of the elementary school portables, but they remain. He undermined the scope and quality if the Trumbull High School renovation project because he knew it would help him win elections. Several millions of dollars of reimbursable money were taken out under his direction. And now we will see if the technology, which is woefully outdated and inconsistent, and school safety (why are there no school resource officers in district?) will be funded. You can't keep chopping at the infrastructure and move this system forward at the same time. With so much dishonesty, you can't be certain that things are being taken care of as reported in the press. That's the basis for my concerns and belief that anything is better.
Joan April 04, 2013 at 02:54 AM
Under the previous administration, our town absorbed hundreds of students entering our school system, the building of a new elementary school, and many other investments in our town resources. Our town's spending has continued to increase under Herbst, yet what do we have to show for it?
Thomas Tesoro April 04, 2013 at 02:59 PM
The pension remains a major issue. There was some discussion in the State of The Union Address regarding negotiating defined contribution plans as being part of the solution. On a surface level this is correct but, private industry is beginning to see the impact of that approach in the private sector, namely, the fact that workers will not save enough and hterefore need to work longer. Older workers have to work longer thewreby keeping more expensive workers on the job instead of replacing them with less expensive workers. The prospect of a 70 year old police officer chasing a 20 year old criminal should give us some pause. Also, the failure to keep campaign promises, that is, to use some portion of surplus as additional contribution, has caused us to miss the up stock market and thereby reduce the current unfunded liability. The fact that we have reached the ARC (Actuary Recommended Contribution) for the woeful Town Pension (funding ratio 27% or so of the recommended 100%) is a plus but the police pension still falls far short of the ARC for that plan (it too is badly undefunded at around 60% ratio). I had to fight to get an additional $100,000 additional contribution when my recommendation of $200,000 was rejected. Last year the majority rejected my recommendation entirely. The Democrats will put some portion of the surplus into the funds as additional contribution and the Democrats will meet the ARC for BOTH the Town and Police pensions.
charley April 04, 2013 at 03:07 PM
When are we going to stop living in the past and start working for our future???
Thomas Tesoro April 04, 2013 at 03:26 PM
The two are not mutually exclusive. Pensions reward the contributions made by those in the past. It honors an obligation the Citizens of our Community made. We would not be having this discussion if past (and even the current administration) both Democratic and Republican had properly funded these obligations. We can work our way out of this by funding at the ARC for both plans and systmaticlly investing portions of our surplus into the funds. We can raise the retirement age, freeze future benefits and replace them with defined contributions. However, I think we have to be careful and thoughtful with respect to the elimination of Defined Benefit Plans (traditional pensions) and learn from the experience of private industry. I believe the public sector is best served by some combination of Defined Benefit and Defined Contribution plans.
louis April 04, 2013 at 08:55 PM
Its nice to see Baldwin running again....usually there is less class....
John Kriz April 04, 2013 at 10:42 PM
I enjoyed reading your general comments on pensions. Pensions are, indeed, a conundrum. Our life span has extended well beyond our useful work life. Many workers will be retired 30 years or more! For those who haven't worked for a corporation, they don't hire older workers, but rather find ways to downsize the older staff. Many jobs have also been outsourced overseas. The employment picture for older workers is poor. Yes, you do see older people working in fast food chains for minimum wage, but there are only so many openings, and at some point the aged do not have the physical stamina for that. It will be interesting to see how we deal with our aging population in terms of healthcare and pensions. I agree, we do need some combination of Defined Benefit and Defined Contribution plans.
Steven Castro April 05, 2013 at 06:03 PM
What troubles me is that this administration continues to finance the operating budget through bonding. Please take notice of anticipapted notes to be bonded and that there is a significant amount ($12 million) that has nothing to do with HS and sewer projects. Fiscal year 2012 & 2013 road maintenance and operating vehicles end up in future bonds. Although you don't want to hear it, this is exactly what this administration took issue with the Baldwin administration. Furthermore, Mr. Herbst wants you to believe that he has the debt service under control.
John Kriz April 05, 2013 at 07:01 PM
I wish all the comments on Patch were as clear and concise as this one. It's an issue the voters should be able to understand and each side will be able to support or refute. I'd like to see a comment like this on each major issue, without the name calling, insults and gobbledygook.

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