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Trumbull Finance Board Member: The Necessity of Bonding

Cindy Penkoff is an alternate on the Board of Finance.

There are a few people in this town that would have you believe that the current bonding issued over the last 2 years was done to give an artificial tax increase. Some think that all the things we have had to bond for should have been in the operating budget. This may be true under normal circumstances, but these are not normal circumstances and there is still more to be done. Bonding when done in a responsible manner can be the best way to handle large expenses that have been ignored and accumulated over a period of time and as long as they survive the life of the bond, with rates being what they are, are a smart choice for the town and its taxpayers.

For many years Trumbull had a 5 year plan, that every year got taken off the shelf, the dust blown off of it, updated with more wish list items and put back on the shelf. Well here is the reality check. You can only ignore the inevitable for so long. And that is what happened. It was ignored to the point that not only did something have to be done but everything had to be done; hence the bonding.

Had those serving the town in the past not ignored the roads for so long, had te BOE not made other things a priority over technology, had equipment been replaced on a rotating basis before it became dangerous to the employees, we would not be in the situation we are in. Apparently there were different priorities.

We built a new elementary school 10 years ago and a new preschool several years later and then proceeded to ignore the other 5 elementary and 2 middle schools in town ALL in desperate need of upgrades. Instead we did a $66 million renovation of the HS that still looks like a prison and continued to ignore the other schools with no plan in the near future to rectify that situation. Instead it was decided to ram through a phase 4 sewer project without reworking the numbers and making sure that it could be done within the original budget, and done right, ALL the time knowing there were issues with Phase 3.

Instead we bought up property in town and built a new building to expand town hall because we chose to grow government and municipal employees. Because of the poor decision making that has occurred and an obvious different set of priorities, the town’s biggest and most expensive needs were ignored.

Now, with all that being said, should the taxpayers be hit with a huge increase in their taxes to fix what has been ignored; what they thought was being taken care of? During a still stagnant and difficult economic period should we tell them it has to be done so here’s the bill? I don’t think so. For those that may be able to afford such things I say good for you, but the majority of this town does not have that luxury. We have had nearly 200 foreclosures in our little town and from what I see, there are many more to come. We have a large population of seniors in our town, a majority living on a fixed income and based on the numerous doors I have knocked on over the last 2 elections, many young families that live week to week.

So some may not like the road Trumbull took to rectify the problems that were ignored, but that does not mean it was not the right road to take for the residents of this town. They are after all, the people we have all promised to look out for.

Disclaimer: These are my views and may not be shared by other members of the Board of Finance or Town Committee.

Cindy Penkoff

Tom Kelly April 27, 2013 at 05:46 PM
Kristy, I already did answer your question above. I said I agreed with you about the technology upgrades. Here is what I said: "Kristy, I think that the BOE SHOULD pay cash for the upgrades. That's why we placed in our OPERATING budget request." Yes, I will support using the Board of Education unspent monies to pay for the $574,000 in technology upgrades not approved by the BOF. It is my opinion that the up-to-date technology is not a like to have, but a must have in our school system. We need to proceed with this investment, in my opinion, in order to provide a good education to Trumbull students. Therefore, I will support using the surplus to pay for it.
Walt April 27, 2013 at 05:59 PM
When people keep referencing the THS renovation and that either it wasn't needed or it was comprehensive enough, I can only laugh! The only thing we didn't do that other towns had already done, was to extensively renovate their high school (New Canaan, McMahon, Fairfield, Hamden) or build new (Darien, Amity, East Haven, North Haven, Madison and now Guilford). 66 million was not enough to do what was needed, but that's what was left after the opponents chipped away at the project and after the couldn't stop the project altogether. The plan had been in the discussion stages for years before it started and during that time construction costs escalated and the rate of reimbursement ( established during the Clinton Administration) kept declining. That's why we still have portables and a cave-like gloomy building with not enough multipurpose space.
Joan April 27, 2013 at 06:56 PM
How can Ms. Penkoff and her mentor, Tim Herbst, complain that spending, and by extension taxes, were too high under Mr. Baldwin, while at the same time claiming that too many necessities were left unattended to, resulting in the huge amount of bonding going on in the current administration? So many improvements were made to our town during the Baldwin years, yet despite the large increases in the town budget since Herbst took office, our town is indisputably in worse physical shape than ever. Of course this bonding is being done, in part, to artificially lower tax rates. This is an election year, and people are smart enough to read between the lines.
Martha Jankovic-Mark April 27, 2013 at 08:47 PM
Please note that the only opposition to the North Nichols Sewer Project was mine. I abstained on the initial $25,000,000 funding on September 8, 2009, and voted against the $3,000,000 additional funding on October 4, 2010. Although we on the Council had received many emails and letters from constituents in support of the project before our September 2009 vote, and only a couple of notes in opposition to it, initially I abstained because of the high project cost and environmental reasons. I voted against additional funding because I could not support the project. I was not present for the June, 2011 vote increasing the funding further by $4,500,000 because I was attending the Connecticut High School Musical Theater Awards, where my son Alex won two awards for THS. Everyone ought to note, however, that in the minutes of each of those meetings it is mentioned that 75% of the costs would be borne by the North Nichols' residents, that Tighe and Bond fees and paving fees were project costs, etc. How times have changed....
MAC April 27, 2013 at 10:10 PM
Some bad decisions were definitely made under the Baldwin administration, as recounted by Mrs. Penkoff, although she was kind in not naming the executive in charge during most of those years when needed projects were being put off/ignored. One of those bad decisions not mentioned, according to a pre-school employee some years ago, was Baldwin's insistence on putting the new Trumbull Early Childhood Education Center adjacent to Middlebrook School, rather than at Frenchtown, as originally planned. As we know, the cost of the project was considerably inflated, with polluted soil problems etc., over what it would have been as part of the Frenchtown new construction project. Of course I fully expect that Tom and Joan will argue that I am wrong about this--unless they follow their normal pattern of ignoring my comment if I am correct. I have noted that they do not answer the difficult questions when someone brings up inconvenient facts that they want everyone to ignore or forget!
Cindy Penkoff April 27, 2013 at 10:59 PM
Mr Kelly where to begin. Did I blame one party or another for the ignoring of this towns infrastructure? No so put your political cap back in the closet and maybe grab some of that common sense you put away a few years back. I'm not playing politics but you seem to want to. Find another opponent, I'm not interested. Secondly, the BOE is the ONLY entity that can decide how it spends it's money at the end of the day no matter what "plan" they put before the BOF. The BOE has had years of giving money back to the town that they could have used for technology. Did they? The obvious answer is no. Whose fault is that? The BOF? Every single time the BOE voted to give back the surplus they had EVERY single year. You made that decision. And, what makes you think even if the FS had left that money in the budget we would have given anymore to the BOE than we did? You should consider that a gift; money specifically designated for technology. You don't have a choice but to use it that way. It's all about personal responsibility Tom. Somebody left things undone, unfinished and unprepared. Then somebody has to fix it. I personally believe we did so the best way possible for the taxpayers. The ones that get stuck paying for the mistakes.
Cindy Penkoff April 27, 2013 at 11:03 PM
Just a few clarifications Walter. First of all I wrote and submitted this letter originally 2 days after the bonding vote. It is just appearing now. I believe the bonding was the most responsible way, on behalf of the taxpayer, to fix theses errors in judgement. And lastly, yes I have lived in Trumbull 12+ years and my husband was born and raised here. I have never been disingenuous in my life and I don't plan on starting now.
Cindy Penkoff April 27, 2013 at 11:40 PM
Mr. Kerr, as someone who ran for the BOE, read the state statutes twice and spent 3 years studying their finances and their financial decisions; doing so with one of the finest financial minds this town has ever known, I have no problem standing by my statement. Everything I know about the BOE budget I learned from him. I disagree overwhelmingly with the way the BOE has handled its finances and many of its financial decisions. And, I am not talking about just this year. It did not take 1 year, 2 years or even 5 years to get where we are. They have had large surpluses every single year and instead of using that for the technology upgrades they so desperately needed they returned it to the town. Why? To look like the good guy? Why not spend the money designated for education, already paid for by the taxpayers and in their mil rate forever more FOR actual education purposes. No Mr. Kerr. I have no problem with my opinion regarding the mixed priorities of the BOE. I surprised there are taxpayers that think this is acceptable. If I am going to pay taxes every year for something I expect to get that something.
Tom Kelly April 27, 2013 at 11:55 PM
Cindy....what did the BOE spend the surplus on last year? Every penny of it.... You claim your history lesson is not political, but all you do is criticize. I have been on the BOE for the past four years....in some of those years, yes, we could have spent money on computer equipment, but that choice would have required laying off teachers and increasing class sizes. I have quoted the increases that Mr. Herbst has given to the BOE above....there's not a lot of room in a budget that is 81% salaries in benefits for spending on technology when you are averaging an increase of 2.35% per year. And then when the BOE did present it's technology request to your Board this year to bring things up to date, your Board denied $574K out of the $692K requested. It's easy to point fingers, as you have so readily done, but the Trumbull Public Schools are one of the best things this town has to offer, and it speaks to the leadership of an outstanding Superintendent, great teachers, administration, and staff, and Boards of Education who have historically done a great job. Maybe you'll get your chance if you run again this year. I give you credit for running against Mrs. Seaman last time around. If you get elected, you will find out that it's much easier to sit in judgment and criticism than it is to actually make decisions that impact the education of 7,000 public school students.
Cindy Penkoff April 28, 2013 at 12:37 AM
Good god Tom. Get over the 1 year thing and the political thing. I have not criticized a party or a single person. The only person riding that wave is you. Enjoy, but I have no interest in it. History is not made with one year and my letter clearly articulates that. So let’s do it the right way, 5 years. How much money did the BOE return in 2011, 2010, 2009 & 2008? Now I'm just guessing but I will bet it was enough to cover your technology needs. But that decision is so difficult to make sitting in that chair. BTW, all the money you had left over last year you NEEDED for FDK. Had to have and yet poof magically you have been able to pay for it without touching that money and are predicted to still have a surplus this year. Miracle! And all the poor increases you received from the mean FS? Still, surplus every year; amazing! Do I sound a little sarcastic? Of course I do. I am so tired of hearing we can't do it with $________ and yet every year you not only do but have a surplus that you DON'T spend on the things you say you need. It must just be too complicated for me to understand right Tom? And I actually do worry about the education of 7000 children, one of which is mine and numerous others that are my friends. I also worry what their education will be like if they are forced to move to another town that may not have what we have to offer already because we decided to sink them with a bill well past due. Poor decisions have consequences. Lets not compound them.
Cindy Penkoff April 28, 2013 at 12:40 AM
Have a good night all. I said all I need to say. The rest is just repetition. Agree disagree. It's what makes the world go round.
Scot Kerr April 28, 2013 at 01:44 AM
Cindy, I couldn't disagree more with the idea of the BOE spending surpluses on un-budgeted, unplanned items at the end of the year. In business, this is called "spending to budget" and is frowned upon by most. Sure as a parent would I have been happy to see the smart boards in our DFS classrooms as a result, but what if they chose to spend surpluses on things that didn't have public support? It's a slippery slope and would lead to accusations of padding the budget to spend money on "frills" at the end of the year. A really bad idea. Used correctly the 1% carryover might provide a mechanism to do as you suggest in the public view and with the involvement of the BoF. But we've got to develop trust and a more productive relationship among us all to make that work.
Tom Kelly April 28, 2013 at 01:48 AM
MAC, I don't avoid any questions. I am also not going to argue that you're wrong, because the truth be told, you are talking about decisions that occurred 15 years ago! So I'll ask you the question....the Frenchtown School project was initiated under Ken Halaby's Republican administration....you tell me....why didn't they proceed with the original plan to build a bigger school that would include the pre-school? Did the Democrats kill it? The Republicans? You appear to be blaming Baldwin, but the construction of the school was underway when Baldwin became FS....
Tom Kelly April 28, 2013 at 02:04 AM
Scot, you are one of the most sensible voices in Trumbull. I don't know what your political party is, if any, but I hope you will consider running for office this November. The town can use such a sensible voice of reason.
Joan April 28, 2013 at 02:54 AM
Still obsessed with me, I see, eh "MAC"?! :)
MAC April 28, 2013 at 07:11 AM
Tom, you have not proven my statements wrong, as Frenchtown school opened in 2003, and the Early Childhood Education Center, on Middlebrooks, in 2005. Some people in town, though maybe not the few who actively read and post on Patch, could verify the facts of those decisions--but you have in no way proven that Baldwin did not change the plan for the Early Childhood Education Center to be included in Frenchtown school.
Tom Kelly April 28, 2013 at 10:09 AM
First of all Cindy, how many years do you want to go back? Do you realize how rapidly technology changes? If the BOE had used that surplus in 2008 let's say, to buy technology, it would need replacing again. Things like school-wide WI-FI should not be purchased with surplus monies, they belong in operating budgets. Maybe you will get your chance. One thing I am quite sure of is that Trumbull gets outstanding value for their investment in education. Our town is ranked 39th in affluence among 169 communities in CT, but our per pupil per year spending ranks 118th. That's darn good value. The fact remains that your Board did NOT APPROVE the technology request...which is where Mr. Herbst put it. Due to the budget shenanigans, your Board never even considered it, because it was removed from the operating budget. And you criticize how the BOE conducts its budgeting. Trumbull is the only town where a surplus is criticized. If the BOE was trying to pad the budget, why wouldn't we just spend it? Why would the BOE return the money to the town? By the way, there was a surplus last year on top of the $875,000. Another $275K or so. It was ALL spent on technology, every cent of it. You must have missed that meeting since you continue to criticize the Board for NOT doing what it did just last year.
Tom Kelly April 28, 2013 at 10:17 AM
MAC, you made a statement based on second-hand information. Were you living in Trumbull at the time? You stated that a mistake was made by Baldwin for not proceeding with the original plan for Frenchtown School. I'm telling you that the plan for Frenchtown School originated under the Republican administration under Ken Halaby. Did the Democrats have a majority on the Town Council during Mr. Baldwin's first term, MAC? I'm not even going to get into a debate with you. All you do is sling mud and your knowledge of local politics is VERY limited and I've seen many things you have stated incorrectly in the past. You should stick to the Tea Party talking points and your neo-conservative websites. At least you can attribute what you state to them, in case its inaccurate. The good news for you is that the topic of this thread in education, so you can use this as a platform to call for school vouchers, more home-schooling, and advocating for inserting Creationism into every science textbook, while reminding us that global warming is unproven science.
Patty Sheehan April 28, 2013 at 03:25 PM
Interesting debate. Some good facts presented by some posters. The usual political grandstanding by other posters. Meanwhile, it still doesn't make sense to bond items which may not still be in use when the bond comes due. That's like taking out a 10 year loan on a car that's going to last you 5 years. Doesn't make sense. Technology is an operating budget item, not a bind item. It changes too quickly...becomes obsolete too quickly...to be paying for today's technology several years from now. If the only way an acceptable budget can be presented is by bonding those kinds of items, then we don't have an acceptable budget. There may be no easy answers to these issues, but political spin gives us no answer. Bonding of short-term use items just delays the inevitable.
Pam Georgas April 28, 2013 at 04:47 PM
How often does the technology in the schools and the town actually get replaced? Yes, in the business world we are upgraded more consistently than every 5 years, but I have been in the schools over the past 20 years, and I remember at times seeing technology that are ancient relics worthy of a history museum. Do we, or could we, lease technology, so that it is upgraded on a more regular basis, so that it remains more current? As far as bonding items, like everything else it is about finding balance.
Kathleen McGannon April 28, 2013 at 09:47 PM
I will give away my age here, but I can take you all back to 1983 when accusations abounded that the BOE was spending every penny they had, rather than admit they had a budget surplus of any amount. I can remember the purchasing agent for the BOE making the rounds of the schools telling principals to buy whatever they needed to spend x amount of dollars so they didn't have to give it back. Pre-buying was rampant! The backlash caused by some of this spending was huge. The BOE was soundly criticized for it. As a result, the BOE decided to be as transparent and open as possible. They began returning surpluses to the town rather than spend it on things not in the original budget it submitted. The BOE was applauded for this "new " approach! The budgets became clearer, they appeared before the BOF to request to use the surplus for necessary projects, and the TC and the BOF was happy to have forged a new, cooperative relationship. Now, Cindy wants them to go BACK to the spend, spend, spend, never-give-a-dime-back mentality. And given the reaction to the surpluses, I would tell them to go back! If every department is to be punished for managing to save money in their budgets, we will soon go back to pre-buying, unnecessary spending, and hiding surpluses. We have come a long way since those days, and I, for one, do not want to see us go back to those days.
Kathleen McGannon April 28, 2013 at 09:48 PM
sorry--1993, not 1983.
Walt April 28, 2013 at 11:32 PM
The problem with letters like this one is that it intends to polarize, confuse, revise and distort so that no one really knows the real truth. The reason why I posted is that the ideas here are recycled such as criticizing the Frenchtown construction, preschool construction and Recreation building (aka Tellalian Building.). The latter being a way of preserving a historic looking home in a visible, town square location. It also is convenient for residents for actuvity sign ups throughout the year and probably was cheaper than adding onto the Town Hall which at times doesn't have enough parking. It also perpetuates a pattern of this administration that continues to rely on scapegoating the opposing party in order to look like a savior in the eye of the public. As a result, I cannot believe this letter was spontaneous and just coincidental rather than calculated. It's also a pattern of this administration frequently seen in letters to the editor pretended to be written spontaneously by unaffiliated voters and ordinary citizens.
Kristy Waizenegger April 28, 2013 at 11:45 PM
Gosh, the fun never ends with the political nonsense. Can we all agree that by its very nature, a BOE budget is not transparent? It's not an accusation or a criticism, just a fact. Once the BOE has their chunk of money they may spend it any way the like. Again, just a fact. The Town Council and other boards have no authority to compel the BOE to spend money on specific items. Fine. The BOE has approximately $800,000 surplus that is theirs to spend and anticipates approximately $400,000 surplus this year, that's 1.2 million in cash on hand because of unspent monies in the budget - again no criticism here, just a fact. Is it not fair to ask that the BOE use that money to fund the technology upgrades instead of bonding it?
Tom Kelly April 28, 2013 at 11:58 PM
So Mrs. Penkoff says the BOE should have spent all of the surplus amounts, but the BOE was lambasted by the First Selectman for doing so. Sounds like a no-win situation. If anyone wants to read the article for some actual history instead of taking anyone here's word for it, it's right here: http://www.ctpost.com/local/article/Trumbull-first-selectman-Board-of-Education-493321.php Kristy, I have already agreed with you twice on this. Yes, I think the BOE should have to use unspent monies to pay for upgrades and not bond them. The only reason that the bonding request was even made was because the First Selectman took the items out of the operating budget and made them a bond request. But it was in the BOE's operating budget request, and it should have been considered by the BOF and the TC as part of the operating budget, because that's how it was requested. In my opinion, the budget process as outlined in the charter did not place this year.
Kristy Waizenegger April 29, 2013 at 12:22 AM
Well thanks Tom but my comment above was not directed at you specifically. I'm perplexed by your comments but not surprised. It would seem to me that if there was any plan to use the surplus money for technology, there would be no need to request money in the new budget for technology, certainly not the amount that was requested. Anyway, what do I know, right? Have a good night everyone!
Patty Sheehan April 29, 2013 at 01:26 AM
Mr.Kelly's comments and factual data supporting them are quite clear to me. I'm not sure why they are unclear to folks who are far more politically connected than I am. Ahh...an election year...always entertaining to read peoples' opinions that are "their own and no one else's". Still doesn't make sense to me to bond items for the long term that we will only have for the short term.
Kathleen McGannon April 29, 2013 at 01:57 AM
MAC, The original plan was to have Frenchtown School contain the preschool. However, Mr. Iassogna constantly stated that we needed a "school and a half" to hold all the programs. Frenchtown was built to the original specifications. My complaint was that it was built for the day it was designed--not for what probably would happen 3 years down the road when it would open. And that is exactly what happened. The population grew rapidly, meaning Frenchtown needed the preschool space for regular classroom space. Neither Ray Baldwin, nor Ken Halaby, changed the design of the school. Circumstances changed the design of the school. Mr. Kelly has given you the increase in numbers for those years. Redistricting had to be done. It was an ugly time in Trumbull! But when all was said and done, when Frenchtown opened, there was no way to fit the pre-school into that building. Another option needed to be found. The preschool, built at Middlebrooks, was the "half a school" that Mr. Iassogna kept saying was needed. Perhaps if a full second story had been planned at Frenchtown from the beginning, it would have helped accommodate the preschool. But it wasn't designed that way. Smaller school were seen as safer, open sight lines were important, etc. Frenchtown was originally designed to hold the preschool and just couldn't by the time it opened.
Kathleen McGannon April 29, 2013 at 01:57 AM
cont. The only "fault" was not predicting the rapid growth that would occur in the school population from the original design stage to completion of Frenchtown. The same thing occurred at the new preschool as well. By the time it was built, it needed to be made larger. "If you build it, they will come.: And they did!
Scot Kerr April 29, 2013 at 03:28 AM
Kristy - We can't all agree that the nature of BOE budget lacks transparency. The budget is developed in full public view with the input of all interested parties; the BOE finances are reported in detail on a monthly basis by the business manager; account transfers are done as a matter of the public record. The school system's finances couldn't be more transparent, and that's a credit to all who helped fix the problems Kathleen McGannon explains above. Unfortunately, the use of the 1% holdover has complicated matters, but it seemed necessary last year when we were implementing a massive new program in full-day Kindergarten. While the BOE finances may not always be as straightforward or predictable as we'd all like, you can't say they are not transparent.

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