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Thursday, February 7, 2008

Few turn out to comment on Milford’s budget

By James Tinley
Register Staff
— About 50 residents attended a Board of Finance public hearing Wednesday at City Hall on the proposed 2008-2009 budget as it faced its first round of scrutiny.
But only eight people stepped up to the podium to offer suggestions on the package, which includes a municipal budget increase of 2.36 percent and an education budget increase of 6.3 percent.
Jack Skudlarek, Board of Finance chairman for 14 years, said it was among the worst turnouts he has seen. “And that’s a shame,” he said. “It’s a lot of money.”
At the hearing, attended by the five-member board and the mayor, residents are free to speak their mind, but questions are not answered.
Skudlarek said specific requests or gripes are the most productive comments because they are always looked into by the board, but the hearing also offers an opportunity for people to “get a lot of things off their chests.”
Joseph J. Prisco, an outspoken advocate of fiscal conservatism and a staple at public comment sessions, called on the mayor and Finance Board to do more to cut city expenses. Given the nearly 2 percent increase in the city’s grand list, “there should be no tax increase at all,” Prisco said.
He told the Board of Finance to “do your homework” and closely scrutinize the budget.
Prisco was one of two people to address the municipal budget, with the vast majority of speakers supporting the proposed education budget.
Patricia Mulhall athe first person to comment on the proposed Board of Education Budget,sked Finance Board members to put their red pens away and leave the budget proposal intact. “I really feel you should fully fund the budget as presented,” she said. “There is truly a reason behind everything in a budget.”
Mulhall, a teacher at Harborside Middle School who has two children in the school system, said she spoke as an educator, parent and taxpayer.
Greta Stanford, Board of Education majority leader, D-1, said the budget increase proposed by Superintendent of Schools Harvey Polansky was “appalling” at first glance. But after she went through every item, she found them to be justified, with 87 percent of the budget comprised of contractual increases, increased utility costs and state and federally mandated costs.
When Mayor James L. Richetelli Jr. unveiled his budget last week, he hinted that without a cut to the school budget, there would be more impetus for taxes to rise
After the budget was passed by the school board, aldermanic Chairman Ben Blake, D-5, said, “It’s not a question of whether the superintendent’s budget will be cut, but by how much.”
Skudlarek, however, wasn’t ready to make predictions on what the Board of Finance will do with the budgets because they are still very much in flux.
Some costs are only estimates, and total state and federal aid coming into Milford is unknown.
“It’s much too early for predictions,” he said. “There are too many factors that are not determined.”
James Tinley can be reached at or 876-3030