We were wading through the early candidate questionnaire submissions when we were caught off-guard by a question posed to us from one of the candidates (after they gave us their answers). “From your perspective what do you think is the biggest challenge facing [our board] this upcoming election cycle?” the candidate asked us. “Just curious.”
We have to admit, it was a good question. We are asking candidates to tell residents what they think the biggest challenge is to the local government, so what do we see as the biggest challenge? Also, what’s the biggest challenge for us?
From our perspective, the town’s biggest challenge this next term is to get back to basics with the budget process. We can’t rely on the town manager to keep pulling the town budget back into the black. Every board has to do its part.
The Observer’s biggest challenge is to be more proactive in our reporting of the budget. We need to be more committed to keeping officials accountable for their decisions and private agendas. We need to give voice to those boards that seem to have been pushed aside—like the board of finance.
For many years (not just last term), Southington’s Board of Education has shown no proactive management skills with their budget, and they’ve done a poor job of controlling escalating costs. Over the last two years, it seems like a dog-and-pony show as the superintendent presents his wish list, the BOE rubber stamps it, and other boards are left to chip away at overspending. As a result, the BOE budget has swelled by $11 million (over 13%) since last election (after cuts by other boards). It has left us asking, what goals did the BOE give the superintendent at the start of the budget process?
The process is not helped by councilors with conflicts of interest pushing their own agendas above and beyond the BOF recommendations on the other end, either. Sometimes, it seems to us that the BOF’s voice gets lost in the chaos.
We take it seriously when the Charter says, “The Board of Finance shall serve as the budget-making authority of the Town.” We think it’s time that every town official—on the BOE and council—recognizes the BOF’s authority instead of pushing their interests. We think that the BOF needs to have a bigger voice in driving the public conversation instead of the old-timers on other boards, and that’s where we come in.
The Observer plans on being more proactive in December when the BOF publishes its annual financial report. We will give it more coverage and ask more questions from the town’s “budget-making authority.” We will ask other boards how they will use those recommendations to set goals with the town manager and the superintendent at the start of the budget season—not at the end. Then, we will hold them to it, making them answer those difficult questions when BOE members or councilors start pushing their own agendas and appointing themselves as the town’s budget authorities. We will do a better job of making them accountable.
In other words, it’s back to basics—for them and us.
To comment on this story or to contact Southington Observer editor John Goralski, email him at JGoralski@SouthingtonObserver.com.