Second Budget Rejected in Thompson.
On the $15.4 million education budget:
Yes: 458…No: 662
On the $6 million general government budget
Yes: 482…No: 637
Approximately 22 percent of the town’s registered voters cast ballots Monday.
“I’m in shock,” said First Selectman A. David Babbitt. “It’s very disappointing.”
Ten years ago in June 1998 Woodstock approved a budget of $13,344,143. The budget just approved for 2007-08 is $20,385,264 (52.8% higher). The Ernies of the world (St. Jean, Wetzel, etc.) would say that this is outrageous growth for the town budget. I was curious about this growth and its cause so I did a few calculations.
First, if I take the 1998-99 budget and simply adjust this dollar value based upon inflation, I find that the town would require $16,798,922 to conduct the same business in 2007-08 that it did 10 years ago. This is not necessarily a justification of the 1998-99 budget. However, with Prop 46 in full force since 1979, who would question the 1998-99 budget? If I normalize due to the inflation rate, I find that over the last 10 years the total town budget has effectively increased by $3,586,342. This number reflects the growth of Woodstock over the last 10 years – about 17.6% growth in terms of expenditures.
During the same decade, the education budget grew from $9,286,125 to $15,003,565 (61.6% higher). If I take the 1998-99 education budget and adjust this dollar value based upon inflation, I find that the education system would require $11,690,262 to conduct the same education program in 2007-08 that it did ten years ago. Again, if I normalize due to the inflation rate, I find that over the last 10 years the total education budget has effectively increased by $3,313,303. This number reflects the growth of the Woodstock education system over the last 10 years – about 22.1% growth in terms of expenditures. So the growth of the education system in terms of its cost has exceeded the growth rate of the total town budget.
The general town-operating budget grew from $2,770,032 to $4,297,881 (55.2% higher). If I take the 1998-99 town-operating budget and adjust this dollar value based upon inflation, I find that the town would require $3,487,181 to conduct the same business in 2007-08 that it did ten years ago. So if, again, I normalize due to the inflation rate, I find that over the last 10 years the town-operating budget has effectively increased by $810,700. This number reflects the growth of the Woodstock town-operating costs over the last 10 years – about 18.9% growth in terms of expenditures.
During the same decade, the total tuition paid to the Academy grew from $2,637,654 to $4,829,034 (83.1% higher). If I take the 1998-99 WA tuition and adjust this dollar value based upon inflation, I find that the 1998-1999 tuition would require $3,323,444 in todays dollars. Thus, if I normalize due to the inflation rate, I find that over the last 10 years the total WA tuition has effectively increased by $1,505,590. This number reflects the growth of Academy tuition costs over the last 10 years – about 45.3% growth in total WA tuition. So the growth of costs of Academy tuition to the Town has exceeded the growth of the total town budget and the total education budget due to increasing rates and increasing numbers of Woodstock students entering the Academy. Where does the increased costs in Academy tuition come from? …Mostly from the preK through 8th grade budget.
Skipping back to the growth of the total education budget, this budget effectively increased by $3,313,303 over the last 10 years, or 22.1% growth. But 45.4% of this growth was due to growth of Academy tuition costs. So the growth of the K-8 school system expeditures was only $1,807,713 over the last 10 years, or a growth of 15.5%.
Thus in summary, over the last ten years the total Town budget grew 17.6%, the general Town operating budget grew 18.9%, the total Education budget grew 22.1%, the total Academy tuition costs grew 45.3%, and the Woodstock pre-K school system budget grew only 15.5% in costs adjusted for inflation. So the spending for the preK-8 system did not keep pace with the growth of the town operating budget and the total education budget.
I was surprised that the increased cost of the education system did not result in diminished funding of the general town budget. Why were both the education and general town budgets able to increase together while the total town showed a lower proportionate increase? Remember the total town budget effectively increased 17.6%, but the education budget effectively increased 22.1% and the general town-operating budget effectively increased 18.9%.
The simple answer is that the town debt service decreased between 1998-99 and 2007-08. The town debt service diminished from $1,288,016 to $1,083,818 (16.1% lower). If I take the 1998-99 town debt service and adjust this dollar value based upon inflation, I find that the town would require $1,621,478 to service the same debt in 2007-08 that it did ten years ago. So, if, again, I normalize due to the inflation rate, I find that over the last 10 years the town debt service costs have effectively decreased by $537,660. This number reflects the reduction of debt service costs over the last 10 years of about 33.2%, e.g. the cost of debt to the town of Woodstock.
This is why over the last 10 years both the education budget and the town-operating budget have been able to continue to grow within the confines of total town income.
The next question would be naturally, why do these costs have to go up at all. I often drive down Route 197 past Ernie St. Jean’s house and have the opportunity to read Ernie’s roadside blog (both a blackboard blog and painted board blog) warning Woodstock drivers about the terrible things going on in town and now castigating them for approving the budget that resulted in a $1,179,988 increase (6.1%) in expenditures for the 2007-08 fiscal year. I have to thank Ernie for his entertaining commentary, and the fact that my speed-reading has dramatically improved because of this roadside hazard. But lets get REAL Ernie(s).
Why should growth in the education budget increase at a slightly faster rate than the town-operating budget. Perhaps no one reading this post has seen the housing developments scattered around town – the extensive development on Route 169 north of the intersection of 197 and 169; the extensive development at the top of English Neighborhood Road around Lebanon Hill Road; the large development by out-of-towners in Woodstock Valley on Barlow Cemetery Road approaching Eastford; Maybrook developed by Porter off of Woodstock Avenue in East Woodstock; Deer Meadow developed by Douglas on Route 197 near Brickyard; the Old Towne Road development off Prospect; and the extensive development on 197 heading towards Union. These are not all of the developments of the last 10 years – there are many more. These are just the ones I drive by nearly every day. These developments are making a few people rich (the developers and the real estate agents) and then the costs of servicing these developments and residents are passed onto the town – praises to Ken Rapoport for stopping one of them.
Let us all remember that the real estate agents are selling properties by bragging to prospective buyers about the ‘excellent’ education system in Woodstock. I talked to someone out of town about the strife in Woodstock over the education budget. This ‘foreigner’ was completely surprised by this strife given that Woodstock is well known for its ‘quality’ education system in northestern Connecticut. The Academy is banking on this well-advertised education system to bolster their own self-esteem and income. So the businesses selling Woodstock for their own financial benefit are the developers, the real estate agents … and the Academy.
I forgot to mention Ernie Wetzel’s former property was also sold to a developer and two new houses are already up. No one can blame the Wetzel’s for this development. As one who has responsiblity for 160 acres, I will have to deal with this some time down the road. It’s not a property that I can afford to keep with close to $9000 in annual property taxes. It’s as simple as that.
What are the costs of these developments to the town of Woodstock? In the last decade, the population of Woodstock has grown from 6978 to over 8000, an increase of >1022 human beings or an increase in population of 15%. The total number of students in our education system has increased from 1299 to 1419 (2007-08) – an increase of 9.2% in total student population. The most expensive portion of this education system, the students attending the Academy, has increased from 363 to 483 (2007-08) – an increase 33%. Assuming that the Academy’s current tuition rate of $10,277 reflects the fair cost of high school students in 1998-99, the cost of educating our high school students has increased from $3,730,551 to $4,963,791 (2007-08), an increase of $1,233,240 or an increase of 33%. These costs of the Academy are not the entire costs of the Academy that come out of the education budget or the general town budget.
A lesser impact from development comes in the maintenance of the infrastructure passed on to the town by the developers, e.g. the new roads. I’m less familiar with these costs, so hopefully others will chime in if they can provide additional information.
The point that I am trying to make is that the Town of Woodstock is growing at a faster pace than many in town would like, including me. We have businesses in town like Rogers Corp. and Crabtree & Evelyn that produce a product to sell. By contrast the developers, the real estate companies, …and indeed, the Academy are selling Woodstock and passing the costs onto the taxpayers. There is only one way to control these rising costs and resulting budgets – that is, to ban building permits for new houses, block off the roads in and out of town, and secede from the United States.
Addendum: There is one other alternative – that is, to trash the school system as some have been doing for several years. We may need to develop a well disseminated advertising plan to explain state-wide what a bunch of swamp yankees we are. The K-8 system is a disfunctional organization and the Academy is a decrepid private school with many sex-offenders on the staff. Please distribute this message to the developers and real estate agents for immediate release. Let’s save the town. I’m sure the developers and real estate agents will find a way to put a positive spin on this.