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RTM Delays Budget Vote

Despite nearly three hours of debate Monday night, the Representative Town Meeting failed to agree on the town’s budget for the next fiscal year. Republicans followed through on their promise of line-by-line cuts to the town budget, and in the process pushed the RTM’s budget meeting to 11 p.m. A majority of RTM members voted to continue past the normal allotted time, but could not get the two-thirds vote needed to continue. Budget negotiations will resume Tuesday night at 8 p.m. at Osborne Hill Elementary.

Tom McCarthy (R-8) initially tried to offer all of the Republican caucus’ proposed cuts in one motion. But after Harold Schwartz (D-7) challenged the sweeping method, Republicans decided to ask for amendments by department.

Before adjourning the meeting, RTM members voted to cut a total of $34,850 from the allotments for the Board of Selectmen, the Town Clerk, the Registrar of Voters, the Planning and Zoning Commission, the Historical District Commission, the Conservation Department, and town legal services. Monday’s cuts amounted to less than .02 percent of the overall budget.

However, Republicans withdrew their largest proposed cut of the night, $370,000 to the Fire Department. The money is to staff a second ladder company with overtime shifts. Fire Chief Richard Felner defended the need for the new addition, saying Fairfield is too large for one ladder truck to cover. He used Sunday’s fire at the Carolton Hospital as an example, saying that his department had to call in Westport’s ladder company for help.“This is the right thing to do. It’s time to move forward,” Felner said. “Yes, it’s going to cost money now, but you have to if you want this kind of service.”

Peter Ambrose (R-2) said his issue with that addition was that First Selectman Kenneth Flatto promised the money in a “secret agreement” with the firefighter’s union. Ambrose said that the RTM originally approved a trial program of six months, which would be followed by a vote to continue the program. He said Flatto agreed to make the addition permanent without RTM approval or reporting his negotiations to the town clerk. “It is this lack of transparency that I find disturbing,” Ambrose said.

Flatto defended his negotiations with the firefighter’s union, saying that first selectmen have done it that way for years. He said the money was supposed to go to the department two years ago, but had to be postponed because of the town’s economic problems. Flatto made two agreements with the firefighter’s union, each time delaying the program, but promising to bring it up in the future.

Flatto said the agreement was not binding, and that he only agreed to allow the additions to be brought to the table for the next contract, which would still have to be approved by the RTM. He agreed that he should have shared information with the town clerk and the RTM.  “But it wasn’t because I was afraid of talking about it, or that I ever thought that this was something to be done in secret,” he said. “It was because I thought it was for the good of the needs of the economics of the town.”

Ann Stamler (D-5) offered a compromise solution. She said she was also concerned about Flatto’s lack of transparency. However, she said the fire department’s request was “a separate issue” about the safety of the town. She proposed to deal with the problem surrounding contract negotiations to another date, and to fund the second ladder company. After a brief party caucus, Ambrose agreed, and withdrew his amendment.

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