August 20, 2017

Letter to the Editor: (Post Election) Rebuttal to a Rebuttal — Clarifying the Facts on Town Spending

To the Editor:

The increases in Old Lyme Town expenditures summarized in my original letter published in LymeLine.com Nov. 1 are correct, and taken directly from the Board of Finance presentation made at the Old Lyme Annual Town Meeting on the 2015-16 Budget:

  • Increase in General Governance:                6.84%   ($8,736,432 budgeted)
  • Increase in Capital Outlay:                         44.01%   ($1,006,129 budgeted)
  • TOTAL TOWN BUDGET INCREASE:       9.77%   ($9,742,561 budgeted)

In Mr. Bernblum’s “rebuttal” letter published on LymeLine.com Nov. 2, he does not distinguish between the Town of Old Lyme Budget and the Region 18 School District Budget; one is controlled by the Town of Old Lyme and the other by the Region 18 Board of Education.  The 3.67% increase he refers to is the combined impact of both the Town (9.8%) and School (1.5%) increases.  He also does not mention that the 4.9% Mill Rate increase would have been 6.9% had the Board of Finance not taken $600,000 from the Town Surplus that is carried over year-to-year primarily for emergencies and one-time capital expenditures prioritized as part of the Annual Budgeting process.

The fact that the reduction in the Grand List exacerbated the Mill Rate increase speaks to the issue I raise in my letter:  property values have fallen and many people are struggling financially.  The Selectmen’s decision to champion approval of $405,000 in Town funds for the Boathouse Hains Park Improvement Project without prioritizing this non-emergency, non-budgeted cost versus other town needs (e.g.: road repairs) resulted in nearly half of the 9.8% Town budget increase. Hopefully the re-elected Selectmen will be more cognizant of the financial impacts of their decisions moving forward.

Also the claim that the Boathouse Hains Park Improvement Project costs have been reduced to $600,000 is not true.  This estimate is for only one portion of the project; when one includes costs already spent on the withdrawn plan, this number is closer to $660,000.  Total project costs will be much higher once the remaining project costs are added:  for example, costs for renovating the public restrooms now that new Boathouse will not include toilets. 

Because the remaining costs will be significant, and have yet to be defined, there is a question whether the entire $883,000 budget ($478,000 STEAP grant plus $405,000 in Town funds) will be adequate to fund the total project based on the newest Boathouse plan.  Please recall that when originally approved, the Boathouse project was to be fully funded by the STEAP grant, without any Town funds as discussed in my Op-Ed published on LymeLine.com Oct. 26, 2014. 

Sincerely,

Nancy Hutchinson,
Old Lyme.

Author’s Note: Information Sources:  Information on the 2015/16 Town Budget was derived from materials available from Town Hall upon request; information on the Boathouse Hains Park Improvement Project comes from attending nearly all committee meetings this year and reviewing associated materials. 

Editor’s Note: The author was elected as an Alternate to the Old Lyme Zoning Board of Appeals in Tuesday’s election.

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