About Town: Swimming upstream

Weston is not alone. At least, that is, as long as there are 168 other towns and cities in Connecticut with their own independent local governments.

We are one of a large “school” of municipal fish swimming upstream. Upstream against an ever more threatening rip tide of state debt. That would be mainly in the form of Connecticut’s unfunded liabilities for pensions of public employees and teachers.

So it came as no surprise to me at last week’s meeting of the Board of Finance that the board balked, at least initially, at any expense beyond what Westonites had agreed to at the budget referendum this past spring.

It seems apparent that what was said a few months ago by those speaking at the board’s public hearing on the FY’19 budget made a big impression on them. What had they heard?

For one thing, a polite but very emphatic cry from parents for greater safety on our centralized school campus. And a flat “no” from those who had developed the education budget when asked directly if they wanted to make changes.

Fast forward to last week’s Board of Finance meeting, which appeared to mainly involve part two of a discussion held by that board in June. This time, though, much of the discussion was held in executive session, which was stated in the meeting’s agenda to be to “discuss school campus security.”

More than a dozen members of boards and town and school staff and leadership remained sequestered with the finance board for over an hour during the executive session. Those not participating in executive sessions cannot hear what is being said by the participants. The rumbling sounds I heard from within didn’t seem to promise accord.

The Board of Finance is the keeper of the purse. They take their job very seriously. Any “supplemental appropriation” above $5,000 must be approved by both the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Finance. If you are not prepared to convincingly defend your request, don’t bother making it.

But in this case, the Board of Finance ultimately saw fit to relent. Expressions of concern about safety outweighed concerns about the implications of the requested funding for future budgets and taxation.

After the dust settled, Weston’s director of finance came to the table. The audience was empty at that point, save for two people. The dozen or so who were engaged in the earlier executive session and open debate were now milling about and conversing in the lobby.

The finance director reported the remarkable news that a check for $334,000 payable to the town had arrived, courtesy of the state of Connecticut. Presumably for education cost sharing, but towns may spend it as they like.

Christmas came early. It is an election year, after all.

“About Town” is also a television program. It appears on Fridays at 5:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 10 a.m. on Cablevision Channel 88 (Public Access). Or see it at aboutweston.com.

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