Budget funds for library restored
SHARON — Taxpayers had a chance to look at the municipal and education budget proposals at a public hearing at Town Hall on Friday, April 29.The hearing will be followed by a town meeting at Town Hall on Friday, May 13, at 8 p.m.Approximately 50 people showed up for the hearing.Ed Kirby was elected moderator. He invited Board of Education Chairman Electra Tortorella and Sharon Center School Principal Karen Manning to present the town’s education spending plan, which covers costs at the elementary school as well as money for regional education, including Housatonic Valley Regional High School. Tortorella was the only member of the Board of Education at the hearing, and there was some outcry from the public about this later in the meeting.Manning and Tortorella went over the budget plan one page at a time and accepted questions as they went. One person asked about the proposed $11,000 in legal fees, noting that only $1,500 had been budgeted for this fiscal year (the new fiscal year begins July 1). Tortorella said the money covers fees for the upcoming contract negotiations with the union for all certified employees at Sharon Center School (teachers), who have three-year contracts. Fred Schwerin criticized the education budget increase of $72,000: “I want to know why the Board of Education thinks it’s appropriate to stick the taxpayers of Sharon with an extra $72,000. It sets a floor for next year, and you have to have an extremely good reason for that.”“Look at it as school programs, not a dollar amount,” Tortorella responded.“If we keep chipping away at things, we’re not going to have much of a school left. We’ve seen the roads of Sharon fall apart and be neglected for a while, and the board doesn’t want that to happen to the school.”Kirby then turned the meeting over to the municipal budget proposal, which was presented by First Selectman Bob Loucks.Former First Selectman Malcolm Brown said the three selectmen should get the same 2-percent salary raise that other Town Hall employees will be getting.“I think [refusing it] is an honorable gesture, but it makes the job look less and less attractive over time,” Brown said.“I didn’t run for this position for the money,” Loucks responded.The first selectman’s salary is $54,556; it is considered a full-time job. The second and third selectmen, who are considered part-time employees, earn $4,160 each.Schwerin spoke next, and said the amount of funding set aside for the highway department is high. He asked Loucks if the town has considered hiring a contractor to do the job instead of paying town employees.“We’re looking into it,” Loucks said, to which Schwerin responded, “Typical Washington answer. There are people sleeping in their trucks.”Discussion then turned to the $5,000 reduction in funding for the Hotchkiss Library of Sharon. Kristin King, who is the president of the library board, read a statement announcing her support for the restoration of the $5,000 into the budget for the library, which was proposed at $45,000 instead of this year’s $50,000.“A cut of this kind is a severe blow, not only to our budget, but to the morale of our countless volunteers,” King said. “It really sends a message.”The group of people who came to the hearing in support of the library were then asked to stand up.After the hearing was adjourned, the Board of Finance convened a special meeting to make changes to the budget as requested at the hearing. The Board of Education budget was left alone with a bottom line of $6,274,426, and a motion was made to send the budget to the town meeting as is, “with reservations.” The reservations were because the Board of Education anticipates a large surplus for the current fiscal year, and the Board of Finance had hoped that the surplus could be applied toward the budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year.The board then voted to return the $5,000 to the budget for the library. To offset this, the board removed $5,000 from the line item for Planning and Zoning for legal fees. The final municipal budget that will be voted on at the town meeting is $3,567,700.