Editorial: Budget deserves support

Taxes would go up less than one and a quarter percent. And, townspeople would still enjoy the good fortune of living in Ridgefield and the benefits of its high quality schools and well-run town government. If that sounds like a good deal, that’s because it is.
Voters should support the tax and spending plans that town and school officials are putting before them in the 2019-20 budget referendum next Tuesday, May 14, from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. — with all voting at Yanity Gym, not the district polling places used in November elections.
Worried by the local implications of the federal tax legislation — which reduced rates but took away many deductions used by Ridgefielders — the selectmen in the last year undertook an extraordinary effort to produce a town departments budget that seeks no increase. The $38,318,807 the selectmen are seeking is actually $4,907 less than the current year’s allocation — a decrease of 0.01% but, still, a decrease. First Selectman Rudy Marconi told Monday’s Annual Town Meeting that the effort involved a reduction of seven jobs, mostly through retirement incentives and accompanying redistribution of responsibilities.
Focused on the quality of teaching and learning, the Board of Education wasn’t quite so draconian — but did keep the requested school increase in the three percent range.
“Education content and delivery of that content is rapidly changing and our teachers need development to grow and best serve the students. This budget has professional development resources to support them,” school board Chairwoman Margaret Stamatis said. “We have underfunded curriculum in recent years and our district performance may be starting to reflect that.”
First-year Superintendent William Collins described the back and forth on the school increase for Monday night’s Annual Town Meeting. Staff budget proposals came in totaling a 5.76 percent increase, the administration whittled that down a 3.43 percent increase — probably cutting a little too much, Collins said. The Board of Education restored some of the staff requests, pushing the increase back up to 3.6 percent. Then the Board of Finance chopped $230,000 and reduced the increase to 3.36 percent. That’s half $460,000 cut to the school request that had been put forward by the Board of Selectmen in its “non-binding recommendation” on the school budget — which would have brought the school increase down to 3.1 percent.
What all this back and forth represents is not quibbling, but the high level of thoughtful deliberation that goes on among town and school officials as budget proposals work their way through a multilayered democratic process. It’s local democracy, working as it should.
The budget proposals town officials are putting before voters — both the 2019-20 town and school operating budgets, and the $4 million in capital project and purchases in last six ballot questions — deserve support.
Ridgefield is a great place to live, and Tuesday’s referendum voters should join town and school officials in their effort to maintain and improve the town, its quality of education, and its quality of life.