Wednesday, February 27, 2008

One Man's Ceiling is Another Man's Floor

There was a reasonable amount of press interest this time last week in a meeting that most of the Norwich City Council held to discuss developing a philosophy on how they wish to have their new employee, the City Manager, and his employees, the city's various department heads, develop a budget for the upcoming fiscal year. I'm sure, if you read a local newspaper, you can recall the coverage. The outcome wasn't hard and fast and yet I think everyone at the table and in the room had a feeling that a link to the Consumer Price Index, CPI, was a desirable goal (the CPI was, as of end of January 2008 running at about 3.9%).

I mention this because last night, the Norwich Board of Education by a seven to one vote, approved a tentative budget of 69.4 million dollars that would mean an 8% increase over this year's spending levels. In what I suspect will be prove to be regarded as one of the poorer, if more honest, choices of words uttered aloud in this region in recent memory, the Superintendent of the Norwich Public Schools, described her requested budget to her bosses, the Board of Education as “not the best, not the Cadillac series,” but (a budget that) would provide a level of “adequate” services the district needs.

Both the Superintendent and the Board, in an ideal world, are looking out for their constituency, the school-age children of the City of Norwich. As a parent who had two children in the Norwich Public Schools system, I can attest to the quality of their ability to accomplish the mission of educating my children, and I shall always be grateful for that. I joked the other day in this space about how you feel as a taxpayer about paying for a municipal service has a lot to do with how much you need, or may ever need, a particular service.

What should happen next, as the City Manager, interfaces with all the departments within his purview, will be some give and take, some horsetrading, some quids, a few quos, (perhaps even an occasional quo vadis) before the City Council gets to look at the City Manager's proposed budget.

I would hope, as was the case in the not-too-distant past in Norwich that should bottom-line concerns force an adjustment to the various proposed department budgets, I won't be treated to the Board of Education holding parents hostage across the city as programs for their children are cut or curtailed instead of reductions in support personnel. If the Board does that, what's to stop the police department from suggesting it will just to have to get bicycles instead of cruisers, or the fire department from responding to your call for help by suggesting you borrow a hose from a neighbor.

For too many years, Norwich, and towns across the state and the country have talked about exercising fiscal responsibility to the taxpayers. The time for talking the talk has long passed. Now we need to walk the walk. And, while Cadillacs are fine automobiles, there's a lot to be said for a Mercury.
-bill kenny

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