Editorial: What’s the problem?

We applaud town leaders, especially the Board of Finance, for last week’s workshop discussion about the mill rate. It was a good, preliminary discussion about the pros and cons of scheduling small mill rate hikes to offset state cuts and occasional spikes. It was good to hear town leaders brainstorming new ways to fix problems. These sorts of discussions are always more fruitful without a looming deadline hanging over the proceedings.

We heard three main problems that officials were trying to fix: First, proactive taxes would help deal with the growing uncertainty at the state level. Second, it would help counter problems that the town faced last year after $5 million in mid-year holdbacks by the governor. Third, it would help the town avoid large changes in mill rates from year to year.

This was followed by a talk about the advantages of building in a proactive mill rate increase during the budget process, but we’d like to hear more discussion about the problem before we rush headlong into the solution phase. Too often, we see town officials pushing through unanimous votes while residents are left wondering what the problem was in the first place. We hope that further discussion is held before town leaders scramble to implement changes. We were happy to see Town Manager Mark Sciota cautioning about putting too much weight on last year’s budget season. It was a unique challenge that isn’t likely to repeat.

Pushing through solutions without fully understanding the problem is becoming a real trend. A few years ago, we protested the council when they pushed through plans for toilet facilities on the rail-trail. It wasn’t the solution that bothered us, it was the complete lack of scrutiny given to the problem before they pushed through their plan.

The bathroom motion was passed after one councilor received complaints from local businesses that out-of-town visitors were using their bathrooms without contributing any business. There was no other discussion, and the plan was pushed through at the same meeting it was introduced.

At the time, we pointed out that two retail projects—Greenway Commons and Cranberry Cove—had been recently approved after presentations to the council promised hordes of pedestrians would swarm into these retail centers, bringing piles of money.  We asked which problem was true? We still haven’t received an answer, but the motion for bathrooms is already on the books.

We also asked why it was a good use of Southington tax money to build toilets for out-of-town visitors that weren’t even bringing in business? Porta potties would be fine. That was never answered, either.

The same thing happened when civic groups offered to put a Columbus statue at the municipal center. Nobody stopped to ask if we should do it since we didn’t even own the building. Instead, it resulted in controversy and protests.

What is the hurry to force a solution? During the recent election, state representatives championed changes they made to state laws that would stop future governors from repeating last year’s mid-year cuts. Is that true or not?

As for avoiding big jumps in the mill rate, there hasn’t been a single year that stands out as a spike over the last decade, although it has risen fairly consistently in recent years. In 2014, the mill rate actually went down a hair. Last year, it actually stayed flat. Is this a real problem or an irrational fear? We would love to hear more discussion.

We love to see our town officials brainstorming solutions. After all, that’s what we elected them to do. But we caution them about moving too fast. Now is the time for scrutiny.

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

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