COLCHESTER – In a contentious meeting, residents pleaded for civility, and the Board of Selectmen voted 4-1 to move the town’s latest budget proposal to a town meeting and referendum, the third attempt to sell voters on a budget for a fiscal year that began two months ago.
The $15,636,525 proposed budget will first go to a town meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 19 in the Colchester Town Hall, where town officials will try to convince residents to approve the budget in a referendum set for Wednesday, Sept. 28.
Selectman Jason LaChapelle was the lone vote against sending the budget forward, but the 4-1 vote was not a sign of reconciliation. Selectwoman Rosemary Coyle, who pushed to restore funding for a senior center bus driver, made clear that her vote was to send the budget to voters, not to give her own approval of its priorities.
Some members of the board bristled at First Selectman Andreas Bisbikos for bringing town Chief Financial Officer Debbie Kratochvil and Board of Finance Chair Andrea Migliaccio into the discussion to pressure them to advance the budget after they voted it down in a 2-1 vote in August.
Bisbikos and Kratochvil warned that if Colchester failed again to pass a budget, it would harm the town’s credit rating – saying that bonding companies don’t look favorably on towns that fail to pass their budgets. Bisbikos has already warned of layoffs and service cuts if the budget fails to pass.
“What does it mean for us? It means higher rates, more fees that we will pay. It will cost us more for the projects that we have going forward,” Kratochvil said. “We’ve got some pretty big projects going forward. We’ve got $4.5 million for fire apparatus, we’ve got $9.5 million for the senior center – so it’s definitely going to impact us the longer we delay the budget.”
Bisbikos insisted that the Board of Selectmen’s only job was to move the budget the Board of Finance approved to a town meeting for voters to decide, and that failing to do that was obstructing the voters’ right to decide – and would open the town to lawsuits as a result.
LaChapelle, Coyle and Selectwoman Denise Turner pushed back on the idea that the Board of Selectmen had no right to question and reject the budget. Turner said the board had every right to reject the budget in August, and that she resented being “reprimanded” by Kratochvil and Migliaccio for that decision.
“I understand inviting people to talk to us about the budget,” Turner said to Bisbikos. “I am a little dismayed that you invited people to more or less reprimand the board for the vote that we took last time. We don’t need to be reprimanded, we’re not children.”
During public comment, two residents implored the board to learn to work together and keep decorum during their meetings.
“In terms of a working relationship, there’s always room for improvement,” Bisbikos said. “And, you know, the holidays will be approaching, so maybe we’ll soften up our hearts a little bit.”