[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.
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.
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.
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.