It’s time we bust some of the myths put forth by leaders of “Better Choice 2011”, a newly formed political action committee in Killingworth.
Myth #1: Our town leadership increased the property tax mill rate by 1.77 mills, taking hundreds of dollars more away from us and our families.
The Facts: The Board of Selectmen and the Board of Finance worked hard to reduce this year’s town budget by 8.8 percent - this follows reductions in each of the years since Cathy Iino has been on the Board of Selectmen.
After the RSD #17 budget (which consumes 80 percent of our tax dollars) was approved in referendum on May 3, the Board of Finance set the mill rate to cover the increase. For the last few years, the Board of Finance has taken money from our cash reserves to avoid increasing the tax rate, in hopes that the economy would turn around. For that reason, there has been NO increase in the mill rate for the last five years. They could not do that to the same extent this year without imperiling the town’s financial stability.
The town budget did not increase our taxes. If we were paying only for our town budget, our taxes would have gone down.
Myth #2: The town has a several million dollar surplus.
The Facts: No organization can function without a cash reserve. This is not a surplus; it is part of our operating budget. The town’s undesignated fund balance is currently about $1.2 million - about 6 percent of our annual liabilities, including the school budget. That’s the bottom end of the range recommended for a strong credit rating.
Myth #3: Selectman Iino and other elected officials voted themselves a 3 percent raise.
The Facts: Neither the First Selectwoman nor any other paid official could vote themselves a raise. The Board of Finance, whose members serve without compensation, recommends a budget to the town, which votes on it at Town Meeting. The Town Meeting is the legislative body of the town, and the voters who attend the Town Meeting hold the power.
The Board of Selectmen did recommend to the Board of Finance that 3 percent raises be given to several elected and non-elected staff members. These staff members had not received any increases in the previous two years, unlike unionized town employees, whose contracts gave them average raises of 3 percent in each of those years.
The Board of Selectmen did not, however, recommend a raise for the First Selectman. The Board of Finance chose to increase the salary, which had not changed since 2006. Even with the raise, the Highway Foreman earns significantly more than the First Selectman. The Board of Finance sought to keep some balance by increasing the salary.
As the Board of Finance stated, “the salary is set for the office, not the person.”
Myth #4: On top of their new raises, several town administrators who are covered by their spouse's medical insurance are cashing in their town-authorized medical insurance for cash payments.
The Facts: The town saves tens of thousands of dollars each year by providing an incentive for employees to purchase medical insurance through their spouse. If we did not offer that incentive, the town could be paying 74 percent more for health care insurance.
Furthermore, in 2010, First Selectwoman Iino moved town workers onto a lower-cost healthcare plan, saving the town over $50,000 in 2010-11. That reduced the incentive buyout as well—with the result that, for those who take the buyout, take-home pay went down, even with the 3 percent raise.
Myth #5: The town leased buildings at Parmelee Farm, for one dollar a year, to a private organization for their exclusive use for 150 years, and promised tens of thousands of dollars in further donations in future budgets.
The Facts: Parmelee Farm languished for almost a decade before dedicated volunteers began to put it to good use. One use, recommended by a committee of interested and involved citizens, is the lease of the farmhouse to the Killingworth Historical Society, a nonprofit organization that works to understand and protect the town’s historic legacy. The town has approved all budgets containing expenditures relating to Parmelee Farm.
The farmhouse is only one of the buildings on the farm. A great many Killingworth individuals and groups—from the Garden Club to the Lions—are taking the lead in making the farm an accessible and functional resource for townspeople. Hundreds of volunteer hours have kept the town’s financial costs to a minimum.
First Selectwoman Iino has also taken the initiative to bring in almost $200,000 in grants that have helped to pay for this exciting community project.
Myth #6: The Town of Killingworth improperly awarded the contract for creation of a town website to a web developer with heavy political connections to our current town leaders. This website developer’s bid of $9,999 was too high.
The Facts: The website project was put out to bid according to the town’s official bidding procedures, and Peg Scofield submitted the low bid. This was fortunate, because Peg is one of the town’s most active, knowledgeable, and generous citizens.
Peg Scofield’s compensation is about $5,500. The Board of Selectmen set a higher “not to exceed” amount because all the submitted bids contained too many contingencies to determine an absolute price. In addition, the budgeted amount was to cover office time required to maintain the website - you can visit the Town of Killingworth’s new website at www.townofkillingworth.com.
Hopefully this helps to put some of the misinformation being placed on the “Better Choice” website into proper perspective. If you want to learn more about Catherine Iino or any of the other Killingworth Democratic Town Committee endorsed candidates, please visit the Town Committee’s website at www.dems.info/killingworth.