Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Residents Speak Out on City Budget

After weeks of meetings, and the formulation and delivery of a proposed budget by Mayor Sebastian Giuliano, the Common Council welcomed residents to express their views on the budget Tuesday evening.

Forty-six members of a packed gallery spoke, the majority backing proposals to save the arts, save the town's baseball programs, and to save grants to residents involved in those programs. A number of people also gave heartfelt appeals to save funding for a domestic violence treatment program.

Supporters of the arts showed up dressed in red shirts, kerchiefs and noses, one arrived on stilts, and spoke about the need to continue promoting Middletown as an arts community.

Dic Wheeler, who helped found programs at Oddfellows, and the Children's Circus, and is now the director or Art Farm, which presents Shakespeare in the Grove, was passionate about his desire to see art funding continue.

He noted that the new 4-to-1 ratio (organizations must raise four dollars for every dollar of city funding), for receiving grants, double the previous ratio, would likely put some arts organizations out of business.

Wheeler, and a number of others also emphasized that a proposal to scrap the sliding scale would hurt those who need the programs most.

"I thing it would be tragic," Wheeler said. "It would kill these programs to take away the sliding scale."

"What your doing is taking kids with not a lot of options," Izzi Greenberg of NEAT said. "And you're giving them less options. It disproportionately affects kids most at risk."

As passionate about funding were backers of baseball programs in town who claimed that the funign scheme, and the closing of Palmer Field on weekends would take a huge toll on their programs, some of which have served the town for many decades.

Perhaps the most heartrending testimony of the evening came from advocates for the domestic violence treatment program which would lose $26,000 in funding.

Program director Michelle Waldner, of the Community Health Center said that the program last month helped 376 victims, took 236 crisis calls and sheltered 10 residents including children. Several of those residents testified as to how the New Horizons program changed, and in one case saved, lives.

Resident Jennifer Saines suggested that the town should reconsider its use of fleet vehicles, and abandon the use of school buses to save hundreds of thousands of dollars. Saines also encouraged full funding for Russell Library.

"It's the jewel in our crown," she said.

As the evening drew to a close Planning and Zoning Commissioner Quentin Phipps encouraged the Council and the mayor to be creative in their approach.

"We have a major opportunity here," Phipps said. "We can do what's fiscally responsible and do it in a socially responsible way. And we need to protect those who are most vulnerable."

Bill Pomfret, who had testified early in the meeting about his desire to see Palmer Field remain open on Sundays closed the meeting on an optimistic note.

"I'd say confidently that I'm the oldest one in the room," Pomfret said. "I played ball with Lincoln. And I sat here all night listening to all these good ideas, and I've come to a conclusion. We've got one helluva good town here. You're our leaders, and you've got some hard work to do. We all want money. Good luck to you."


Anonymous said...

I was at the meeting last night and decided not to speak as the hour was late and I could tell that the council and the audience was losing focus. But, I would like to remind the council and the community that the arts are closely tied to the revival of our downtown. In the last few years our downtown has become an entertainment district, known for its restaurants. I believe that the restaurants have come to Middletown, in part because we are known for our arts.

Invariably, when I go see a performance I think “dinner and show.” In all the years of the children’s circus (only missed two), I have always met friends for dinner downtown after the show has ended. I’ve been to Buttonwood on many an evening, when following the performance, the audience disperses to area restaurants and bars. When I had children rehearsing at Oddfellows, I always tried to schedule an errand during those hours – check out Amatos for a birthday present, meet a friend for lunch, etc. Lucky for Middletown, we have a vibrant arts scene bringing in many people from out of town, doing just what I do, pairing their arts entertainment with a meal or shopping.

Putting the arts at risk with budget cuts, puts our downtown businesses at risk as well.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Phipps made one of the most intelligent comments of the evening- We want to keep the arts, do not target the most vulnerable such as the CHC, New Horizons and elderly.
There were a lot of blatant things said by some speakers last night that were untrue. City employees do not get free lunches, free coffee, only a had full use a city vehicle when on city business outside of utility trucks & police cruisers, not city employee health insurance is not paid for 100% by taxpayers, and coverage for retired persons has been changed so that individuals cover their own premiums.
Taking a furlough is a HUGE step ( not a gifted vacation! as many think)- a week unpaid can mean for some families a week without groceries, or a month where a mortgage payment is missed. Furloughs are concessions. Step freezes are concessions. How is a layoff any better than closing a park an extra day? Layoffs only cut services to the public- and put another entire family in economic jeopardy, not just the person who is unemployed-
Raising taxes is not the answer either in economic times like these.
Trimming of budgets needs to be done,there IS no other way when the funds just are not there- and as Mr. Phipps reminded the council of, should be done with the utmost care.