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Ron's Rap

April 30, 2007

Budget BS

By Ron Gambardella

The Town Council met for three days last week to deliberate the mayor’s proposed 2007-2008 fiscal year budget. The approach the Council decided to take was to first review each department’s individual line items and vote to either keep or change the funding. Once this process has been completed, we will then revisit each department and discuss head counts and salaries.

According to the council clerk, after reviewing 23 departments the Council has managed to reduce the mayor’s proposal by only $96,000.

The Council will deliberate Public Works, the Fire and Police departments this Tuesday, beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers. To date, there has been very little public involvement in the process. To be sure, a lot more work remains. However, I can tell you for certain that this Council has no desire to lift the tax burden from the shoulders of Hamden taxpayers. In order to prevent yet another tax increase, we must remove nearly $8M from the budget. To achieve this, salaries must be reduced through attrition, not filling vacant position, reducing salary increases and layoffs.

At best, I see the Council reducing the overall budget by about $4M taking about $2M from the Board of Education and the remaining $2M from line items, salaries and perhaps contingency. This is not enough to prevent a tax increase. They have neither the willingness to seriously reduce the budget nor a sense of urgency that the current financial situation cannot continue to be supported by the taxpayers.

Let me give you an example of how the deliberations are going.

I motioned to reduce the uniform budget for the animal control officers. I mentioned that the administration has proposed an overall budget of about $318,000 for uniform-related costs, most of which is contractual and is simply an allowance of money given to employees. The animal control officers don’t have such an agreement in place and seemed a likely place to show the public we simply need to cut back whenever and wherever possible.

Councilman Mike Germano argued that the uniform allowance was necessary to clean (his words) “dog shit.” Everyone on the Council agreed with Councilman Germano and the item was passed with, I believe, one vote against (mine) and another abstained. I am not certain how much dog excrement the animal control officers actually come into contact with that requires $1,240 in uniform-related cost as proposed by the administration.

However, it seems Councilman Germano does possess this knowledge. So much so that he was able to convince almost the entire Council with his one and only example of the need to remove dog excrement to justify the cost. This gives you some idea of the depth and breadth of knowledge the Council brings to the table to help reduce your tax bill. My advice: Get out of town now while you can before the tax burden once again increases.

Here is where I stand on the whole matter. I am absolutely and totally disgusted with the entire budget process. The Council has shown very little willingness to tackle the fiscal irresponsibility of the administration. The only remedy I can offer up to counter this irresponsibility is withdrawing my support for the pension obligation bonds. If you recall, I have been very supportive of the mayor’s proposal for POBs. I suspect the vote tally will be very close. I initially proposed the bonds several years ago as a fix to the depleted pension fund.

However, if the Council cannot come up with the necessary savings to prevent another tax increase, I will be proposing a reduction to the pension contribution proposed by the mayor equal to the amount necessary to prevent a tax increase. The mayor is proposing to contribute $12M to the pension fund. He has already built in the POBs (not yet passed by the Council). I will propose to reduce this amount to a level commensurate to a tax neutral budget. In other words, no new taxes to Hamden taxpayer.

By the way, not passing the POBs, according to the administration, will add approximately $500K to the budget not yet reflected in any total.

Raw and uncensored, Republican Councilman Ron Gambardella opines on the latest goings-on from behind the legislative bench. He can be reached at r.gambardella@snet.net. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

April 23, 2007

Equal Opportunity Slasher

By Ron Gambardella

Last Monday and Tuesday evenings, the public was invited to voice their concerns over the mayor’s 2007-2008 fiscal year budget. It certainly was one for the books. We had tax protesters depicting several councilmembers as circus clowns. We had Councilman John Flanagan walk out of the Council Chambers in protest to a resident’s criticism of the Council. We had parents requesting that the school budget be funded in its entirety for fear that the BOE would cut the talented and gifted program, and on and on and on.

Prior to the public hearings, department heads also came before the Council to request salary increases for various employees. They painted a bleak picture with dire consequences should the Council not provide the requested funding. Others presented the Council with a grocery list of items they wanted added to the budget, more money for energy costs and so on. It seems everyone wanted something that required more money.

The Council will begin deliberations tonight. If I had to sum up all the competing interests who spoke during the public hearings, I would say that collectively they did little in the way of convincing me one way or other to their point of view. The reason is that for the most part, each speaker cared only for their own special interest. Some folks insisted that they didn’t mind paying more taxes as long as their special interest was cared for and the remainder of residents help foot the tab. Others didn’t mind cuts in any department as long as it wasn’t the library budget. In other words, don’t touch what I am interested in, but it is OK to look to other departments for reduced funding.

Unless there is a clear vision of what must be done, it is nearly impossible to formulate any sort of plan from all the comments, conflicts and confusion that occurred over the past couple of weeks.

So, let me speak plainly. I will work toward eliminating the confusion during budget deliberation. The haphazard approach employed by the Council to develop a fiscally responsible budget produces little in the way of results. It is impossible to produce results when you are trying to gain the greatest number of votes in November by making promises that the residents of this town cannot continue to financially support. So let me make this as simple and straightforward as I can. I will be proposing cuts to salary increases, eliminating positions, consolidating departments and reducing all discretionary spending to the bare bones. In short, I will work vigorously to reduce the burden on the taxpayer. It’s that simple. Any other approaches will most assuredly produce higher tax bills.

In order to accomplish this objective the Council must remove nearly $8 million from the budget. I have been writing over the past year about the balance of power. With 13 Democrats and two Republicans on the Council, this will be extremely challenging. The reason is that the Council is supported by town employees, friends of town employees, family members of town employees and people who earn a living from taxpayer dollars. Take a look at the mayor's recent donor list. This is nothing more than a testament for keeping things the way they are. They will fight tirelessly to defend the status quo. They know that any change in the balance of power will be perceived as a threat to their way of life.

Fear not. Even in the face of these extreme obstacles, I remained committed to reducing the burden on the taxpayer. The odds are overwhelming, but I am up for the challenge. More later.

Raw and uncensored, Republican Councilman Ron Gambardella opines on the latest goings-on from behind the legislative bench. He can be reached at r.gambardella@snet.net. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

April 16, 2007

Reasonable, Not Generous

By Ron Gambardella

Hamden has always been known for its outstanding police service. The men and women of the force are second to none and deserve the support of the administration, Council and residents of Hamden. Several weeks ago, I commented on the understaffing of the Police Department saying the vacant positions should be filled, as was intended by the previously approved budget. These positions were properly funded and approved by the Council in the 2006-2007 fiscal year operating budget. The mayor and his advisors decided to re-appropriate these funds for other town initiatives they deemed more important, as they continue to mismanage the town’s finances.

I am in favor of filling the vacancies. In fact, I am in favor of beefing up the force to the recommended levels for a town our size. That is until the mayor proposed an additional $7.9M tax burden on residents.

Now we must deal with the issue of public safety without passing an additional tax increase onto the taxpayer. The mayor’s proposed budget has placed an obstacle in our way that prevents the town from optimally staffing the police department. As usual, the mayor’s solution is to simply solve the problem with more money. Once again, this is the only solution this administration and council ever propose.

I have had enough of this myopic vision for the town. We must put into place a transitional plan that will lead to long-term prosperity and job security for town employees. Here's what I think needs to be done.

Every department should be scoured for savings. This may mean force realignment, departmental consolidation and overtime. I realize this is asking a lot from folks who have been handed empty promises by this administration. I need only point to the unsustainable benefit package and generous contracts as an example of making commitments that the town cannot financially support. Councilman Fitch’s own words (as an insider) indicated that the benefit package was generous.

The town cannot afford generous, but it can afford reasonable.

With a little forethought the administration could have negotiated straight time for normal library operations that include Sundays; and/or flex start times to adjust for seasonal changes in work schedules, such as Parks & Rec supervisors beginning at noon to avoid overtime; and/or asking employees to work 40 hours instead of 35 or 37.5 hours.

These are reasonable requests. Had we had some of these items in place, the Police Department could be fully staffed without passing on yet another tax increase. Until we can bring some sanity to this madness of irresponsible financial commitments we have no other choice but to continue to operate the department at the current force level.

Raw and uncensored, Republican Councilman Ron Gambardella opines on the latest goings-on from behind the legislative bench. He can be reached at r.gambardella@snet.net. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

April 13, 2007

Cops Can Do With Less

By Ron Gambardella

This past Tuesday, the Police Department presented its budget to the Council. After listening to various departments presenting the status quo all night, it was clear that not a single department manager has put any thought into reducing his or her budget. Instead, there were very dramatic, yet unimpressive, appeals for adding more money to an already overinflated budget. By the time the police budget was presented to the Council, I was ready to hear an innovative approach to solving the service versus funding issue. You can imagine my disappointment when Chief Wydra began by requesting that the Council fill all open positions.

It was determined that the department is providing adequate public safety coverage through the use of voluntary overtime. Chief Wydra admitted that overtime was a less costly approach than full staffing. He expressed concern that the men and woman of the force were unable to sustain the current level of overtime. He felt that excessive overtime was leading to greater fatigue and growing complaints. I questioned why the officers who were volunteering to work overtime would complain. His answer was unclear.

I further suggested eliminating officers having to work overtime to direct traffic for roadwork. He shot back that these officers are there for public safety and could not be safely replaced by a flag person. I could see he was in no mood to talk savings or for that matter interested in considering any alternative other than the predefined, administration-endorsed, deeply entrenched, wholeheartedly embraced status quo.

If overtime saves money, why burn up overtime on nonessential work related to road construction? Chief Wydra believes this is a major public safety issue. He believes anyone other than a properly trained police officer is simply not qualified to direct traffic.

I beg to differ.

Freeing up the overtime from this endeavor will allow the chief to administer the town’s force with fewer police offers at a lower cost to the taxpayers. I don’t believe there is a single Hamden resident who doesn’t believe there are at least some jobs that do not require an officer. In the recently negotiated contract, an officer is entitled to a minimum of five or six hours of overtime irrespective of the actual time spent on the job. It’s no wonder an officer would sign up for this kind of overtime and resist the overtime related to policing the town. There are only so many hours an officer can work. Why spend them on work that could easily be performed by a flag person?

So let me summarize. The Council should pass a resolution eliminating the need for an officer to be present where traffic concerns are less of an issue -- such as side streets in residential areas. This will at least free up some overtime hours that could be used to downsize the force and ultimately save money. Here is my projection: This administration and Council will do absolutely nothing, claiming that officer overtime for construction activity is a moneymaker for the town. Don’t be fooled by this argument. The savings realized would more than offset any additional funds generated from the overtime. My guess is that the status quo will prevail and the tax.

Raw and uncensored, Republican Councilman Ron Gambardella opines on the latest goings-on from behind the legislative bench. He can be reached at r.gambardella@snet.net. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

April 9, 2007

Counter Proposal to the Mayor’s Budget

By Ron Gambardella

Make no mistake about it, this and prior administrations have put the town in an extremely difficult and fiscally precarious position. The lucrative labor contracts, uncontrolled spending, mismanaged pensions and generous benefits have all taken their toll on the taxpayer. The mayor insists on keeping the status quo with his most recent budget proposal.

Don’t expect the current Council to ease the burden. The majority of this lot will endorse the mayor’s budget and make it appear as though there was nothing they could do. They will make a great show at deliberating minutia, but in the end few will do nothing but rubberstamp the mayor’s proposal with minor changes -- and pass another tax increase onto Hamden taxpayers.

Listed below is a chart I put together that compares the mayor’s 2007-08 budget to what I believe must be done to prevent yet another tax increase after last year's historic rise that was unbearable to so many. I simplified the comparison by broadening the expense categories so that you can more clearly see what must be done.

The column labeled “08 Gambardella” is my best attempt at generating a zero tax increase budget while at the same time preserving the mayor’s proposed $12M contribution to the town’s pension plan and keeping our commitment to retirees. The “All Other Line Items” shows a 4 percent reduction or $1.9M. This line contains a myriad of items from every department including such things as benefits, bond interest and principal, overtime, books, journals, maps, office supplies, computer supplies, etc.

I reduced the BOE budget so that it is equal to last year’s level with the exception of recognizing the shift of revenue to the town side. This was an accounting change and not an increase in expense. I reduced Emergency and Contingency to $250,000. This line item was created to provide a reserve for unforeseen circumstances. I believe if my proposed amount is inadequate, the town should revisit each department to find the necessary funding.

You will notice I have decreased the medical and salaries categories. The town’s labor cost cannot be supported under the status quo mentality this administration and Council continues to embrace. The mayor falsely led employees down a path of promises made that the taxpayers cannot keep without reducing the workforce. He wrongly thought the folks in this town would accept another round of lucrative contracts without any resistance, cause or concern. He was and continues to be wrong!

We must find alternatives to providing services. Let’s look at our neighboring towns to pool resources for police, fire and social services. Let’s recruit college students looking for practical experience in government by participating in college internship programs to bolster administrative staffing, library staffing and/or social services staffing at no cost to the taxpayer. More money cannot be the only answer to solving the town’s problems. It is, however, the only solution this administration can offer. It is now time to try something other than the status quo.

The mayor’s office locked us into a generous benefit package until 2009. We must work around the obstacles this administration continues to put before the taxpayers. Once the benefit situation is negotiated back to affordable levels, we can stabilize the workforce by providing real job security to Hamden’s employees. In the meantime, the workforce will encounter a period of transition as we evolve to greater efficiencies through departmental consolidations.


The chart below is the revenue budget. Notice that the only line item that differs between what the mayor is proposing and what I am proposing is the taxpayer contribution. The mayor is attempting to shake down the taxpayers for another $7.9M. I say N-O! You have reached into our pockets deep enough already. In November, voters will have to decide if they are content with the mayor’s way of conducting the town’s affairs. From what I have been hearing, I don’t believe they are willing to sign on for two more years of tax increases.


Things can and will change with a new administration. Special interests can no longer dictate how much to extract from the taxpayers. My budget puts the taxpayer at the head of the line instead of last in line. This can and will work because as you know the status quo has got to go!

Raw and uncensored, Republican Councilman Ron Gambardella opines on the latest goings-on from behind the legislative bench. He can be reached at r.gambardella@snet.net. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

April 3, 2007

Call Me Mr. Scrooge

By Ron Gambardella

It appears that Joe McDonagh has emerged as the spokesman for the 13 as well as for the administration. It’s no surprise; you won’t find a single one of them defending the historically high tax increase and risk losing their seat in the upcoming election. They are content to allow Joe to defend the administration’s policies and practices. They can observe from a safe distance, check the public reaction and then retreat when pressure mounts. This is not unlike the behavior of the lowly cockroach when startled by light quickly ducks for shelter.

No matter, it’s all the same to me, Joe or the current council, they think alike, act alike and talk alike.

Let’s look below the surface and see if we can make sense out of what this group is trying to sell the voters.
Joe mentions Ebenezer Scrooge. When you think about this it is almost comical that he picks a character out of classical literature that is known for prudent, fiscal policies. Scrooge is a business owner who apparently continued operations after his partner died. Moreover, he kept his one and only employee working through what seems to be difficult economic times. I say this only because the employee appears to have been working for Mr. Scrooge for many years without ever exploring other job opportunities.

Naturally, in order to keep his employee gainfully employed he institutes cost-cutting measures such as reducing heat consumption rather than attempting to pass the cost on to his customers. Moreover, in the course of 24 hours, Mr. Scrooge undergoes a complete transformation of his policies instituting a social welfare program to offset the cost of healthcare for his employee.

I don’t believe this was a common practice for the period. Scrooge seemed to be a visionary capable of leadership during a difficult period of transition. As far as I can tell, he did not try to pass the burden of ill-conceived polices onto the surrounding community to solve his problems as is the case with the current administration. He took decisive action in response to the needs of his employee and came up with a plan to resolve the issues. No doubt instituting a benefits package that included cost sharing, higher deductibles and co-pays, thereby reducing the net premium outlay for the company. This policy also provided safety and security for his employee so that the company and his employee could enjoy solid growth and prosperity for both the near and long term.

On the other hand, we have the administration and the 13 instituting policies that merely shift issues to the taxpayer. When fiscal restraint should be embraced, this administration proposes a 1.6-point mil rate increase to the taxpayers who are already seething with anger from the mayor abusing his office and the previous historically high tax increase.

Joe mentions the help desk. This was nothing more than providing a friend with a job at the taxpayers’ expense. Joe justifies this by quoting useless statistics such as the number of phone calls answered. So what? Why shouldn’t those calls go directly to the department heads for resolution? Why do we need another level of expense? We also have the mayor going around the charter to hire his friend as the animal control officer, the mayor’s proposed raise for himself, and on and on and on. This administration has not a shred of credibility with the voters. I speak for them when I say we have had enough!

It is clear from Joe’s comments that he only sees money, money and more money as the solution and has nothing but disdain for any attempts at fiscal restraint. The once proud Democratic Party has been overcome and lost to greed, givebacks, paybacks and cronyism of this administration. These elected officials have lost the faith and trust of the people they were sworn to represent.

Poor Joe, he sees Mr. Scrooge as the villain for having managed his company prudently and spending wisely. Mr. Scrooge was able to balance sound fiscal policy with social reforms creating an environment where everyone benefited. This man ended up a hero in the eyes of his employee and the community. He was remembered as a leader and a man committed to changing the status quo. And, as you know, the status quo has got to go.

Raw and uncensored, Republican Councilman Ron Gambardella opines on the latest goings-on from behind the legislative bench. He can be reached at r.gambardella@snet.net. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)


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