Editorial: Back the budget

Yes, $144 million is a lot of money. But the tax and spending proposals voters will judge at next week’s budget referendum are reasonable, well thought out, and worthy of support.

The tax rate proposed is just a 1.8% increase. The combined operating budgets for town, schools and road repairs — just over $144,360,000 — represent a 1.99% increase over the current spending of $141,548,000.

The budgets are designed to continue the quality of life Ridgefielders are accustomed to.

Question one is the $47-million town budget that supports the solid, dependable town services that provide the foundation for much of day-to-day life — roads to drive on, police and fire protection, parks, playgrounds, ball fields, and swimming spots. Vote yes.

Question two is a $95-million school budget — the trimmed-down version. The Board of Education’s initial 4.23% increase proposal was cut some $1.5 million by the finance board to the 2.55% increase coming before voters. It pays for buildings, buses, but mostly people — teachers, principals, paras, secretaries, and custodians — to continue the high-quality education Ridgefield parents expect so their children can grow, learn, get into good universities, and develop into well-rounded, productive citizens. There isn’t a more important thing we could spend money on.

Question three is $1.8 million that goes mostly to road reconstruction — drainage work, repaving — done through a collaboration of the town highway department and contractors it brings in. There are more than 400 town roads stretching over 150 miles, and every winter they are assaulted by snow and ice, freezing and thawing. It takes money to keep them up.

Questions four through eight are for capital expenditures to be paid for with borrowing — a sensible way to finance more expensive improvements and equipment that will serve taxpayers for years to come. Town officials limit borrowing and both the debt and debt service are decreasing. Total debt is about $60 million — down from a high of near $140 million during construction of the “school bundle” in the early 2000 years. Debt service, $11,523,000 this year, declines to $11,037,000 next year.

Question four is $1.3 million to renovate the south wing of the Venus Building so school offices can be moved there — allowing for expansion of the Ridgefield Playhouse into adjacent space the school offices now occupy. The Playhouse — which will finance its renovations with private fund raising — attracts people to town with its shows. They stroll the village, eat in restaurants, spend money. Playhouse officials see the planned expansion as critical to its long-term financial health — which makes the Venus project critical for Ridgefield.

Question five is $570,000 for a 63-car parking lot in the wooded area east of lower Bailey Avenue (north of the current Governor Street lot). The idea is provide parking for employees who work in the village, opening up spots closer to shops and restaurants for customers and shoppers. The Parking Authority is revising its permit and enforcement system to make it work. The lots on Bailey Avenue and Governor Street are near capacity every day. More parking — vital to any retail district — is desperately needed.

Question six is $508,000 for three roof replacements, continuing sidewalk work, and a much-needed study of the often overburdened village storm drainage system. Storms and floods are getting worse, and the roofs and drainage need to get better.

Question seven allocates $690,000 to buy a new pumper-tanker for the fire department and $196,000 to replace one of the highway department’s big red Mack dump trucks — the vehicles that do the brunt of the town’s plowing. The town replaces one a year. Vote yes.

Question eight is $949,000 for a variety of school capital projects — oil tank replacement, continuing asbestos removal, repair of a cooling tower at the high school — and also includes “technology and safety” upgrades to school buildings — door locks, film to strengthen glass against assaults and shattering, an entrance vestibule for East Ridge Middle School, and computer technology that building security systems are tied into. Yes, of course.