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Cassetti: Ansonia Budget At ‘Breaking Point’

by GUEST COLUMN | Ansonia Mayor David Cassetti | Feb 16, 2017 11:09 pm

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Posted to: Ansonia, Ansonia Budget, Ansonia Budget 2017-2018, Letters To The Editor

Most Ansonia residents will find the cuts to the Ansonia Public Library in the proposed 2017-2018 budget absurd, and I couldn’t agree more. To face any scenario where library hours could be cut – even a “worst case scenario” – is infuriating.

Yet the need to contemplate such a reduction in services evidences just how absurd the rising costs of public education are in Ansonia and similar towns, and how utterly irresponsible and neglectful the State of Connecticut has been in failing to fairly fund its most distressed school districts.

The rising costs of public education in Ansonia is not an excuse or a scapegoat for possible budget cuts. It’s all too real.

First consider that my administration has worked diligently to meet increasing education costs, boosting our district’s budget permanently by an average of 3.5% over the past three years. That’s up from an average increase of 1.5% over the eight years prior, and represents a total of over three million additional dollars since I took office.

This year, however, represents a breaking point. Rising special education costs and the elimination of the state’s alliance district program has created a need for unprecedented support. Over the next twelve months alone the Board of Education needs at least $3 million extra.

It’s the equivalent of taking three years of ordinary increases within a single year, and the superintendent has reported that it still won’t prevent layoffs at the school system.

As you might imagine, the need for such a dramatic increase would shock the system of even the best prepared municipality. The specific breakdown is as follows:

  • An $800,000 expenditure to cover excess special education costs in the current budget year (2016-2017). This has already been approved by the Board of Aldermen.
  • An additional increase of $1.4 million (or a4% increase) requested in the 2017-2018 budget.
  • An estimated $800,000 expenditure anticipated later in the 2017-2018 budget to cover the projected shortfall in the special education budget.

My administration has proven capable of doubling financial support to education over the past three years without raising taxes or cutting services. We are in no position to do it again—within a single year— without fair treatment from the state.

As I have previously argued, Ansonia receives only 70% of its need-based “education cost sharing” funds from the state, while wealthier, less taxed and less needy towns receive over 150% of theirs. The results of this inequity are now staring us in the face.

While my team continues to tirelessly explore alternative budget solutions, I call upon our community to demand that our state legislature adopts Governor Dan Malloy’s commendable proposal to fairly fund education costs in Connecticut. Fairly funding Ansonia in one year alone would deliver the support we need to move forward without cutting services such as our library.

Let me assure residents that I fully support the Ansonia Library and respect its rich heritage and special place in our community. I would never allow our library to “close” or “effectively close” in any scenario, and the mere suggestion of that is outrageous and false.

However, the prospect of reduced hours at the library and other departments is indeed very real if the State of Connecticut cannot fulfill its obligation to fairly fund our school district. Our city simply cannot handle the burden of these progressively extreme increases year after year.

The only alternative would be to subject Ansonia residents and businesses to ever increasing tax and fee increases. Such increases would drive tax paying residents away, discourage business investment and make it even harder for Ansonia to succeed. This strategy has not worked for cities like Bridgeport and Waterbury, and I refuse to start my hometown down such a disastrous, wrong-headed path.

The proposed budget should be a wake-up call to all of us. Now let’s begin the work of fighting together against the “worst case scenario” and obtaining the fair treatment that Ansonia deserves.

Mayor David S. Cassetti

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