Editorial: Business as usual in a fiscal crisis?

The ink wasn’t even dry on our editorial about state spending when Joe Aresimowicz swept into town with the news. State leaders approved $3 million to dredge the pond at YMCA Camp Sloper. Of course it’s great news for Southington. After all, the YMCA pond is an iconic town image, and the YMCA has always kept the park open for Southington residents—even for non-members. It’s never a good thing to look a gift horse in the mouth, but is this really the best use of public funds during a fiscal crisis?

We can’t in good conscience criticize construction of soccer stadiums in Hartford while we look the other way when it benefits our town. It’s this sort of spending that created the state’s budget crisis, so we don’t feel that state leaders should continue to do business as usual during the crunch.

During last year’s budget talks, we were pummeled by reports about the rising state deficit. In November, the governor sounded the alarm, slashing municipal funding to towns across the state in a last-ditch effort to balance the books (which still aren’t balanced). Our schools took the biggest hit.

The $58 million in “holdback” cuts hit Southington the hardest of any municipality, and town officials have spent the ensuing months wrangling over every penny to balance a budget that found itself with a $5.1 million hole because of the governor’s mid-year cuts.

A rookie town manager tightened his belt to deliver a flat budget next year. Board of Education, Board of Finance and Town Council budget talks sometimes resemble steel cage death matches as they finalize next year’s budget. The town’s been divided into camps with every side pointing fingers at the others, but town leaders continue to fight to stay in the black. There have been tough discussions about teacher layoffs, canceled construction projects, draining the town’s hard-earned savings, and even raiding the rainy day account.

Nobody likes it, but that’s what you do when you find yourself in a financial crisis. We applaud all of the town’s leaders whether we agree or disagree with any specific decisions about spending or cuts. It’s been ugly at times, but it’s hard to find fault with a community that has tightened its belt to do its part to help out the state.

Connecticut Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz (D-Berlin, Southington)

Meanwhile, what has the state done? Malloy has continued to dole out money in ways that almost seem arbitrary, most recently with $27 million in municipal grants that seemed to punish Southington for tightening its belt. Then, state leaders rushed to approve $10 million for a stadium in Hartford and $3 million for a Southington pond. If there’s money for these projects, it might be better used by rolling back some of the governor’s holdbacks and using the tax money to help the tax payers.

It’s always been an ongoing debate. Should public money be used for private entities? After all, non-profit businesses are already being helped financially by the state and the town through tax relief. On the other hand, a pond that doesn’t get dredged can pose health problems in the community. We aren’t looking to enter into this debate, but we think that everyone can probably agree that the timing is terrible.

If there isn’t money for education grants or bridges on Marion Avenue, how can there be enough money to dredge a pond? It’s like a family that decides to install a pool when there’s no room in the budget for food.

We are happy that the House Speaker finally won a battle for Southington, but we think it was the wrong battle to win.

To comment on this story or to contact Southington Observer editor John Goralski, email him at JGoralski@SouthingtonObserver.com.

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