Senator Witkos Updates Torrington Residents at City Council Meeting [Register Citizen]

March 19, 2013

Article as it appeared in the Register Citizen on March 19, 2013

Torrington Mayor Ryan Bingham makes first round of budget recommendations

By Kate Hartman

Senators Kevin Witkos and Clark Chapin and Representatives Jay Case, Michelle Cook and Roberta Willis addressed the City Council about budget in Hartford. (Credit: Kate Hartman/Register Citizen)
Senators Kevin Witkos and Clark Chapin and Representatives Jay Case, Michelle Cook and Roberta Willis addressed the City Council about budget in Hartford. (Credit: Kate Hartman/Register Citizen)

TORRINGTON — Mayor Ryan Bingham recommended nearly $350,000 in cuts from the budgets of just seven departments within the Water Pollution Control Authority at a special meeting Monday before the regular City Council meeting.

The largest recommended reduction was made in the street department.

“This is one of the scariest cuts primarily because we’re already facing an uphill battle with resurfacing our roads,” said Bingham.

The mayor told the council that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget proposes moving money into the Town Aid Road grant and the Local Capital Improvement Program (LoCIP), two programs that the city uses to fund capital improvement projects such as roads and bridges. While money would be moved into these programs, it would be moved out of the operational revenue Torrington receives from the state.

“We’re expecting a reduction of $512,422 from the state in operational revenue, which will then, as projected, increase Town Aid Road and LoCIP by that exact amount,” said Bingham.

The mayor explained that in order to deal with the proposed budget, “we’re going to reduce the amount projected in the street department budget and increase the anticipated revenue on that capital.”

Bingham said that means a 10.8 percent decrease in the street budget, which brings their total budget to $3,891,187.

He expressed his concern over the money the governor has promised in Town Aid Road and LoCIP being taken away in two years. He said that $512,000 represents miles of roads that would then not be paved in Torrington.

Bingham recommended cutting the parks department’s request for additional capital reserves as they have done in previous years. He explained they would reduce the budget by $24,000, bringing their total budget to $1,080,038.

The city real estate department also saw a large decrease, with the mayor recommending that a fund established to repair sidewalks be completely decreased to meet the budget.

“We had hoped to establish a sidewalk repair fund by which we can be more aggressive in repairing sidewalks that are technically not our responsibility,” said Bingham. “By our charter we have the ability to notify the property owners and if they cannot or will not do it, we have the right to do it for them.”

That $25,000 cut compounded by an additional $75,000 decrease brings their budget to $80,305, which represents a 11 percent decrease.

The council expressed regret at the elimination of this program.

“This is going to be a very tough budget year in programming,” said Bingham. “New programs are probably not an option unless they are creatively funded.”

The landfill department saw a recommended reduction of $75,000 in disposal plus another reduction of $15,000. That brought their total budget to $975,000, which equates to a reduction of 8.45 percent.

The health department, which deals with the disposal of garbage, saw a recommended reduction of $21,000, which brought their total budget to $2,850,849.

No recommendations were made for the engineering department, the public works director and City Hall. No additional recommendations or changes were made to the sanitary sewer and streetlights department.

The council tentatively approved all of the recommendations. Final approval will be held over until the final meeting, which is tentatively set for May 9.

Torrington’s five state representatives, Sens. Kevin Witkos and Clark Chapin and Reps. Jay Case, Roberta Willis and Michelle Cook, made an appearance at the regular city council meeting to give the council and the public an idea of what is happening in Hartford with the governor’s proposed budget.

Witkos admitted that it has been hard to focus on the budget in the wake of the tragedy at Newtown. He said they have been spending a lot of time on issues like gun laws and mental health.

With or without the distractions in Hartford, Willis readily admitted that this is a hard budget year.

“This is probably, I can say of the 13 years I’ve been a legislator, this is the most difficult in terms of the budget and the reason for that is we have really cut and picked all the low hanging fruit over the last several years and so it leaves us very few places to go,” said Willis.

Witkos said the topic he gets questioned about most is the car tax proposal because that will have a huge affect on municipalities.

“I would classify that as dead on arrival,” said Witkos. “I haven’t met a legislator, first selectman, mayor, board of selectman or board of finance that likes the proposal.”

That was no surprise to Bingham, who has publicly expressed his distaste for the proposal.

The Register Citizen has reported that the car tax brought in approximately $566 million to towns in 2012.

The legislators said the car tax and the cuts to hospitals are going to have to be renegotiated.

Case maintained that while they don’t have all the answers right now, they are working hard in Hartford.

“I think it was Roberta who brought it up to me that it might be premature to be here talking to you about the budget while we’re in the middle of working on it, but I think it’s important you know where we stand and what we’re doing in Hartford. We’re trying to figure out the dollars and cents and where it goes,” said Case.

The public hearing that was scheduled for the regular council meeting on the Community Development Block Grant Program was a bust with no one from the public showing up to speak.