In 2018, bonding $6.5 million for this project was considered too much. In 2019, it was reduced to $5 million and was approved. A year later the price has jumped to $7.2 million in a much worse economy
This was taken from a story published in The Day on Nov. 18, 2018:
“For finance board Vice Chairwoman Lisa Picarazzi, the proposal to bond an additional $6.5 million just 18 months after residents passed a $37.5 million school renovation project is “poorly timed.” Though she acknowledges a $6 million plan for the facility has been outlined in the town’s Capital Improvement Plan, she said she would prefer to see the project postponed.
“There are a lot of people on fixed incomes and people on assistance that really can’t take another tax increase,” Picarazzi said. “I’m looking at it from the taxpayer viewpoint.”
Approving using $1.2 million of the FEMA reimbursement, and bonding an additional 985k only adds “nice to have” additions to the renovation, none of which are crucial to police work and improving the quality of services provided by first responders. It neglects to address and fund the most important critical items such as police body cams, building maintenance, and the additional staffing that will be needed to maintain the quality of service and protection East Lyme residents expect.
The referendum only allows additional money for one floor of a two-story 30,000 square foot facility. The second floor and exterior grounds will have to be funded by other means, eventually costing taxpayers many millions of dollars more.
In East Lyme, COVID-19 hit vulnerable seniors the hardest. To control the coronavirus spread, last spring town and state leaders shut everything down. It crippled the economy and inevitably, this greatly diminished tax revenues that fund programs for needy seniors. Now, seniors are hammered not only by the virus, but also by the potential loss of crucial town, state and government services. It’s a double whammy. The last place any government should target for cuts is older people during a pandemic, These are the programs that should be the response to the pandemic — not the things we cut in this emergency. It’s troubling to see how many of these [COVID-19] deaths are in nursing homes. We should expect leaders would double down to keep people from going into these homes.
The Board of Selectman with this referendum would prefer to borrow, defer some spending, turn to accounting gimmicks and possibly empty the “rainy day” reserve bucket — the traditional playbook for budget deficits, except this time that bucket is a FEMA reimbursement check. To make the budget look better, Town Hall also, on paper, arbitrarily reduce the projected deficit and raise revenue expectations. That’s bad government. But worse is smacking low-income seniors, many of them frail and disabled.
Mark Nickerson wants to get it done — not kick the can down the road. Problem is, that immediately kicks struggling seniors. Hardly anyone wants to raise taxes, and cut services.
Children are at risk too. In April 2020 the town cut $826,900 from the Board of Education 2020- 2021 operating budget. It consisted mostly of reductions for added staff, elementary school teachers, math coaches, paraprofessional hours, social worker, custodians, part-time secretaries, and a global language teacher.
The new hybrid school years has created additional stress on education, educators, children and families. Added stresses that are scientifically proven to compromise people’s health. Concerns and fear of a COVID resurgence is rising, as recently the High School was closed due to a person there testing positive for COVID. Along with questionable cleaning practices on school buses, both are not helping putting the people’s mind at ease.
We have listen to the First Selectman time and time again say nothing breaks my heart more than making more budget and town services cuts. Seniors and Parents I talked with, told me they’re really tired of hearing “breaks my heart” language from the First Selectman and other politicians. It fits into the same script book with “thoughts and prayers” after mass shootings.
The stakes are high at this coming October 1 referendum. The plan to utilize the majority of the FEMA reimbursement, and bond the remainder will raise taxes yet again and have an negative impact on East Lyme’s most vulnerable, seniors and children. The FEMA reimbursement would do more good if used to help protect our seniors, maintain crucial services, provide the police the tools they require, not “what’s nice to have”, and fund educational needs.