DARIEN, Conn. ? This letter was written by Jame Stevenson, the Republican candidate for Darien first selectmen:
It's that wonderful time of the year when the air turns refreshingly crisp, apples and pumpkins are ripe for the picking and politicians from all parties begin brandishing about their promises of "fiscal responsibility." While I can no longer claim that I'm not a politician, I still harbor my own personal disdain for buzz words and ideological catch-phrases like "fiscal responsibility" and "fiscal restraint." I contend that we all have our own personal definitions of these overused platform phrases. As a matter of fact, in researching to write this paper, I could find no less than eight different definitions in the first five minutes of my Google search.
The purpose of this paper is to lay out for you, the Darien taxpayer, what my idea of "fiscal responsibility" is and see if it resonates with you. I believe that being fiscally responsible doesn't necessarily mean you don't spend money. For me, being fiscally responsible means that we must weigh the cost of a potential expenditure against the long-term value of that investment. I ask myself will this investment enrich and enhance our community and does it have the potential to increase our property values while limiting the burden on taxpayers?
The claims of "fiscal responsibility" from my Democratic opponents suggest that the current financial leaders of our town have been fiscally irresponsible. I strongly and categorically disagree. It is worth taking a minute here to remind you of how our budgeting process works. Annual budgets are developed for both the Board of Education and the Board of Selectmen. These two budgets are prepared independently, and neither board has influence over the other's budget. Initially, department managers draft, review and revise their respective budgets; the department managers propose their budgets to the administration; the administration reviews and revises the budgets; budgets are then researched, reviewed and revised by the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Education respectively. After lengthy debate, both budgets are proposed, approved and passed on to the Board of Finance. The Board of Finance further reviews and revises the budgets and passes them on to the Representative Town Meeting for their further scrutiny, review, public debate and ultimate vote. There are no less than five review and revision steps in the process of adopting our town's budget and, as is appropriate for our representative-style governance, the taxpayer has a voice in this process.
In addition, the Town's Board of Finance, Finance Department and Town Treasurer have stringent financial guidelines and protocols in place to ensure ample reserves, conservative investment guidelines and limitations on use of funds to protect not only our cash position but also our financial reputation in the investment industry ? ie: our bond ratings. Worthy of note here is that we have one of the lowest mill rates and we hold the largest cash reserve of any Aaa-rated municipality in the State of Connecticut; our debt levels are well within the Board of Finance's imposed guidelines, and our debt repayment schedule is aggressive. The town currently pays off $7 million in principal every year. Couple that with our very limited acceptance of State and Federal funding and we are well protected from the fallout of the current economic crisis.
There is no more focused debate on "fiscal responsibility" than with the Mather Community Center proposal. My opponents claim that the current proposal is "fiscally irresponsible." Here are the facts. The entire proposal ? building a new community/senior center, renovating the old library to accommodate the Board of Education and tearing down the current senior center to make way for senior housing will cost $6.9 million, coincidentally, the equivalent of our annual principal pay-down. I believe the impact to the taxpayer is manageable and will bring much-needed space and desired services to our entire community, which will likely reflect well on our property values. I believe these facts support the Mather Center as a fiscally responsible project.
It is important to reflect on the past to plan for the future. There have been times when prior administrations have deferred or underinvested in our town only to have this cost us more in the long run. However, we have consistently invested in our children's education. As a result, we have all reaped the reward of significant property value increases due, in large part, to this wise investment. I believe an investment in the Mather Community Center will have the same result.
As your First Selectman, I will rely on my value-investing principals to guide everyday decisions that will impact Darien's future for years to come.
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