Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Middletown Council Plays Nice But Not Yet at the Hand-Holding Stage

I'm not going to cover the entire Council Agenda from Mon., June 19. I'll leave this to others. I'll hit the highlights.

The Council discussed an amendment to the sign ordinance. A 15 min. disussion of what constitued a "balloon" ensued. The only dissension was offered by Councillor "Mother" Theresa Santos to "tacky" political signs. She equated loving Middeltown with disliking signs (if she'd had a local flag handy, I do believe that she'd wrap it around herself). They are allowed now for two days after an election. Any longer renders you liable to execution. And the candidate, too. I think they're fun.

A 3-member Special Assessment Review sub-committee was formed consisting of Barrows, Silveira, and DiPalma. The Chair made a point of NOT appointing "Mother Theresa." Too bad some of her many assignments are not spread around to Silveira who has few (now up two 2).

Councilman's discussion of the Town Administrator's new policy regarding copying to the Council Prez any info given to Councillors or the public was discussed again. Silveira, The White Knight, wants this policy sent up to the A.G.'s for review BEFORE enforcement. He also wants the reference to the "general public" excluded. Of course, one wonders when a Councillor is just that & not also a member of the "General Public." Councillor Mello objected to the use of the word "Policy" instead insisting it is a "practice" (enough already!) & the Council "shouldn't be interfering with Kempen." Seems to me that they tell him what to do/not do all the time. That's why I refer to him as "The Man between a rock & a hard place." However it was unanimously approved. I'll will await the Attorney General's view of the legality of this policy with interest.

The next topic was Silveira's resolution to return to the taxpayer extra monies now in the undesignated reserve fund (appx. 4.5 mil). He wants this fund limited to 8% of the total budget (it is now 8-15%). This would almost negate ANY tax increase.

The Councillor was then complimented for the thoroughness of his presentation & research by both the Prez Roderigues & Sylvia. This must be a first! And the rest of the night went on like this. Everyone was polite, well-mannered, and thoughtful. Hurrah! Step one - check!

Sylvia thought this was a "short term solution to tax relief" and "not prudent." His concern is that our bond rating would be lowered resuling in higher vendor bills from those who base their costs on our Moody bond rating. We now have one of the highest in the state.

Councillor Mello thought we "should stay where we are," and "doesn't see where this puts us in a good place at all, and will "mortage our children's future." The latter statements around some non-complimentary under-remarks from the audience (about fifty). The comments were centered around the fact that our children would never be able to afford to live here if we can't.

Councilman DiPalma compared this to the tobacco funds on the State level being used to balance the budget for a one-time fix. "What happens next yr.?" He thought this was a "difficult decision to make" and that it might be prudent if we "spent funds to infrastructure."

The Prez asked the Finance Director to comment. I found him too soft-spoken and excessively verbal - in other words hard to understand. There are a total of 28 "reserve" funds. Many of these are restricted as to what they may be used for. He recommended no policy change but that the % we keep in the fund could be examined. Pretty neutral! Wise man.

Councillor "Mother Theresa Santos" said, "It hurts me to pay taxes." But she always does on-time & also pays her own medical. This elicted under comments from the audience - she gets Social Security & only pays a few bucks a month. This, of course, reminds me of teachers who DON'T. She thought the money excess is a "blessing."

Silveira then responded that we were"not blowin the kitty." "How many of us have this [28 reserve funds]? "How much is enough?"

The Prez is concerned with "What's right" and "fiscally responsible." He appreciated that the White Knight is "thinking outside the box." He thought this was "a band-aid fix." He was concerned he'd face "real mad people next year" when the tax rate rises. He then allued to a meeting with Kempen & Brown (Finance Dir.) to discuss the possibility of using some of these monies to fund reducing debt.

Roderigues also reminded everyone of the tax assistance offered by the town to those who can't afford their taxes (has anyone has ever made use of this. If not, the value is only theoretical.)

It was also mentioned that while the town is exceeding expectations in tax amounts, collections are behind. One might wonder why. Councillor Barbara Barrows is concerned about state cuts" and wants a buffer.

Ron Santa spoke & was clearly exasperated, "Sometimes I wonder if anybody listens." He says that this fund pulls in 1 - 1/2 mil a year and wants to "stop the growth." He wants one year of tax relief - "you'll still grow the account." He always makes it a point that he came up with this idea two weeks before the White Knight. He is rightly concerned! Somehow his brain waves are reaching the White Knight's - Spooky!

The White Knight could sense defeat (but the crowd's support!) & wisely had his own motion tabled until the figures in this fund are firmed up by June 18 (audit). I was shocked that no one offered to amend. Politics is ALL about making deals. But no one did. Evidently this is worth going to the wall for? Or is it just that you know that you have the Council votes? Ah, but the public is the ultimate voter.

The second topic went on much like the first. It concerns the PPV fund - this is the money that GMH gives us to cover police/fire costs. It's close to a million a year & has not yet been used. The White Knight wants the restrictions of how it can be spent removed & these monies returned to the general fund resulting in no new taxes this year (when combined with the previous resolution).

"Mother Theresa" Santos then was quite agitated & proceeded to hammer the White Knight. It was the second time that night & the Prez stopped it with "Let's get back to Council business." Happy feet! No more of this baiting, insulting, shooting zingers. Let's get back to business, indeed! Cheers! One things I've learned from watching. If she ever asks if she can ask you a question (on a topic you know that she's likely against) - say NO! It's a set-up.

Paul, the Prez, then explained this fund. If you build up this fund yearly, by 2010 you will have funding for a new fire station & other offices. No bond needed. He's going to "stick to my guns" and this is "fiscally responsible."

Silveira then countered (with DiPalma contributing info) that the future is difficult to read. The town plan calls for a new fire station but that doesn't mean it can't be on a pay-as-you-go system. School Sup't Kraeger had just restored some funds to the school budget when Blue Cross costs came in lower than estimated.

Silveira then got the Council to back him resubmiting his resolution eliminating the part calling for funds to be restored at least partically (for sports) to the School's budget. So stay tuned.

The next discussion was on DiPalma's resolution to gain more control over issues affecting us. He referred to the town being told that a heloport was to be located here, the recent bill to render Newport helpless in the new Casino proposal, and the recent location of a group home in the Coggesshall neighborhood (off Oliphant La.) with no notice to neighbors. In fact, a small crowd (12?) were involved with the latter. While no Coggeshall area residents spoke, the Chair of the Planning Board, Art Weber spoke in favor of more local control. Also speaking in favor was Zoning Board Secretary, Lucy Levada, and a neighbor of another group home. The consenus was to speak to the town's Lege reps (and get some lege submitted). This is going to be a difficult one. Let's see what happens, but I doubt the State is EVER inclined to give up any power to anyone.

And then, dear Reader, I departed while some meeting was still going on. It was a long night. It was wonderful to see local Democrats at least making an effort to get along. How the Council is going to nix Silveira's proposals is going to prove interesting. Silveira will win either way. By trying to isolate & marginate him, you awarded him the opportunity to be the White Knight. The White Knight is on a roll now as anyone can see. So when are you going to begin holding hands & crossing the street together? C'mon. You learned that in K'garten. Play nice. Then we'll ALL win!

PS. It was nice to see former Daily News reporter, Meaghan Wims there. Read her article in Projo . Read Ron Santa's newsletter. I'm sure that he stayed to the end & will give you more details with a slightly different slant. I'm sure that the "Daily News" will have its own take tomorrow with reporter Mike Sheley.
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