We asked the Plainville Town Council candidates the following questions:
1) At the 2017 election, Plainville was facing challenges with a deficit due to the town’s health insurance plan, along with challenges with state financing. What did you do during the last term to address these challenges? (incumbent) or What would you have done to address these challenges? (challenger).
2) Other than the above issues, what was the most important issue faced by the Town Council over the last term? How did you handle it? (incumbent) or How would you have handled it? (challenger).
3) What do you see as the most important issues for the Town Council over the next term? How will you handle it if you are elected?
Here are their answers (Candidates are grouped in the order they will appear on the ballot):
1) State aid reductions made later in the fiscal year and claim spikes in our self-funded health care fund combined to create this situation. To address the shortfall, the council had a subcommittee to propose recommendations. I was pleased to be a member. We developed multiple strategies including reductions, savings, use of unassigned fund balance, and supplemental tax. Recommendations received bipartisan approval and resolved the immediate situation in ways that were fiscally sound and minimally disruptive. However, the town still had to address health care costs on a long-range basis. The self-insured plan worked well for years but a 2018 review of data on current and projected costs showed significant concerns going forward. Therefore, to contain cost and avoid unpredictability, the town has gone to a fully-insured state partnership plan. In terms of state funding, we continue to work with legislators and city/town organizations to support reasonable levels of municipal aid and timely adoption of state budgets.
2) I believe that the issue of how to adjust the 2019-20 board of education budget prior to the second town budget vote on May 14 was both challenging and very important. The first BOE budget was defeated by 12 votes in April. It was up to the council to decide on the next budget to send back to voters. My stated position was that a 12-vote margin was not a mandate for large reductions. I cited several other factors including the need to recognize the role of strong public schools in the big picture of what will make Plainville a desirable place to live. As the council deliberated, I worked with others to minimize a reduction. Although there was ultimately a bipartisan compromise to finalize and move the budget forward, I believe that we made a real difference in the outcome. I think this issue was also important because it created awareness of the need to participate. Numerous residents did in fact become engaged in the process prior to May 14. Parents and others came forth to voice opinions. The budget then received overwhelming support and while turnout was still relatively modest, many more people voted. I certainly will continue to actively encourage such civic involvement.
3) I would name the overarching issue of committing to building a vibrant future for Plainville and then making specific decisions based on that vision. It is too easy to stay with the status quo or hold ourselves back from being the best we can be. Actions that I believe can contribute to a strong positive direction include: Maintain and upgrade buildings, infrastructure, and technology; Promote smart planning and innovation using the upcoming plan of conservation and development as a guide; Support resources that create an excellent quality of life such as parks, recreation, library, and senior services; Recognize public safety as a priority that establishes a sense of community well-being and security; Reallocate, reinvest, and conserve in ways that achieve the above goals with budgets that are responsible, reasonable, and financially sound.
1) I feel strongly, joining the Connecticut Partnership Plan, which Plainville did do on July 1, 2018 was the most appropriate step to take. Plainville has approximately 1,400 employees between the town employees and the board of education. However the entire plan has more than 55,000 members (numbers can be verified here (osc.ct.gov/ctpartner/members.html), which greatly increases the bargaining power of the town and its employees. The plan encourages wellness visits and tries to capture issues early before they become catastrophic. With more towns or small employers joining into the plan our bargaining power will only strengthen and hopefully lead to greater discounts which benefits the employee members and the taxpayers.
2) Having to have a second BOE budget vote this past year seemed to me to be a very large issue and I hope it opened the eyes of our Plainville citizens. During the special session meeting that was held I/we got to listen to multiple people passionately speaking about not cutting a budget that lost by 12 votes. Knowing we were looking at cuts to teachers, programs, paraprofessionals, sports, everything across the board was on the chopping block at a $200,000 number. People turned out to speak and implore the council to not destroy the education system in our town. After a brief recess, parents and a few past students who had spoke passionately about what they believed, had to leave, the meeting continued and a man stood up and said “We should ignore all those people” “They never come to the meetings” “They only want one thing”. That was the final straw for me, it let me know I needed to be involved, and I need to fight to make sure everyone in this town has their say.
3) As with question number 2, I believe citizen engagement needs to be moved higher up on a priority list. I’ve read all the minutes going back for three years now, and with very few exceptions the same six to eight people speak at every meeting. I was appalled when I learned our voter turnout for the budget was less than 8%. But with the research I found our 2017 budget elections were less than 6% voter turnout. While our turnout for municipal offices elections are better, around 25%. That is still unacceptable and bad on all of us for not working to turn out the citizens of this town. If elected or not, we all need to work to increase the voter turnout of our town.
1) I feel the best move was to change the health care plan after the claims exceeded the amount and the loss of funding by the state of Connecticut. The new plan was the best option for the long-term planning for the employees and the Town of Plainville. I would have liked to stay with the self-funded plan because in years past it showed to have a surplus in funding, but it is sometimes better to be cautious.
2) Over the last year the town council has faced many issues that are very important. Recycling is now costing the town money, and we need to find ways not only to pay for it but make sure that the residents are educated in what we should be recycling since now we are paying for every pound we put in the blue barrels. Education on recycling is essential for reducing cost and making sure that our taxes are not increased because of recycling.
3) After attending town council meetings this year, it seems that the trail is one of the most important issues that are facing the town currently and how it affects the town and residents. The trail is coming, the state is giving us no choice, so we should embrace the upgrade to our town and make sure that the plan has the least impact on the residents and the environment. I will make every effort to ensure that this is one of my top concerns.
1) Shortly after the 2017 election, we had some difficult decisions to make. We were facing a significant deficit due to a shortfall in our self-insurance fund, a result of $1.6 million in claims above what was expected, and a reduction to the funds received from the state of $1.9 million. Our first priority was to balance the budget and do it as responsibly as possible. We used a portion of our undesignated fund balance to cover a majority of the deficit. Next, we had to make an adjustment to our revenues with a onetime supplemental cost to the residents. Finally, we ended our self-insurance plan and joined the state health partnership plan. Moving away from self-insuring allows us to avoid the possibility of such a deficit caused by insurance claims in the future.
2) Other than the budget deficit, the most important issue over the last term was the reduction to the 2020 recommended education budget. The education budget failed by a slim margin and our charter directs us to reduce the proposed budget prior to a second vote. The two sides were far apart on where to set the new recommended budget. Through conversation with the residents of Plainville and the members of the town council, we were able to find a compromise.
3) There will be a number of issues to work on, and it’s difficult to say which is the most important. The majority of what we do is budgetary. However, in addition to continuing to try and budget responsibly for town and educational costs, we need to make sure we are properly supporting our police and fire departments. Economic development is vastly important to any town’s viability. We need to continue to work to grow our tax base. A healthy tax base allows the support of schools, first responders and town departments. This will allow Plainville to continue to have solid services for our residents.
1) To address our health insurance issue we made three important decisions. First, we used fund balance to help offset some of the revenue deficit. Fund balance is designed to be used when a town experiences some unbudgeted, unforeseen expenses. To try to address future deficits of the health insurance fund, we decided to move from a self-insurance fund to a fully-insured fund sponsored by the state. Lastly, we made a budgetary adjustment to increase the monthly cost of the health insurance line item in the budget for fiscal year 2020. Since the state decided to reduce our state aid during the fiscal year two years ago, the town had to absorb that reduction without outside assistance. Through a combination of fund balance, a supplemental tax bill, and reduction in budgeted items we were able to bridge the gap from what we expected to get from the state to what we actually received after the state decided to rescind aid to our town.
2) We saw the start of the Wheeler school renovation project, which is currently slated to be completed in Feb. 2020. This will allow Wheeler to join Toffolon and Linden as recently renovated to best educate our children. We continued with years three and four of the five year road improvement bond. I have committed to getting back on a program that allows us to repave roads every 25 years. We also, with great assistance from the fire company and community, moved forward with replacing two of our more outdated fire trucks. We should see two new fire trucks delivered over the next two years, one in 2020 and the other in 2021.
3) The most important issue will be keeping any tax increases as close to zero as possible while supporting our fire and police departments, our human services (social and senior), our school system (academics and athletics), as well as our capital needs (sidewalk and roads, for example). More specifically, we need to invest in our fire and police equipment. Making sure that we replace aging or obsolete equipment to make sure our public safety employees are safe. We need to invest in the town’s road and sidewalk infrastructure. We have many roads and sidewalks that are in dire need of replacement. We need to be sure this stays a priority and gets addressed over the next two years. With the school system we need to see the completion of the Wheeler school renovation. In addition, the middle school will need to be renovated seeing it is now going to be over 30 years old. There are structural as well as academic enhancements that need to be made to this facility to keep up with the changes in education over the last 30 years. I would like to look for ways to save costs by regionalizing certain responsibilities the town currently owns. By sharing costs with other towns in our area we can save money for the taxpayers of Plainville.
1) The self-insured health plan that the town has been using for many years turned out to be too unpredictable the past few years, as we have seen numerous claims, and some of them very large, which resulted in a large increase to the cost of the plan. We also sustained a $2 million reduction in state aid six months into the fiscal year. These two things caused the deficit in our budget. Steps we took to address this were switching to a state health insurance plan that is less costly. Everyone has been very happy with the new plan. The aid deficit was addressed by scaling back on our original budget, using funds from our fund balance, and sending out interim tax bills.
2) Balancing the financing with the needs of the town continue to be a top priority. Contractual obligations of salaries and pension funds continue to rise, but we have managed savings of road paving and fire equipment through bonding. We have also realized savings through reorganizing departments, and consolidating some services with other towns.
3) The aid we get from the state continues to be unpredictable. We need to continue to work on expanding our grand list, so we can increase our revenues. We also need to continue to look for ways to reduce costs while maintaining the services that make Plainville a great place to live.
1) The initial challenge we faced in 2017 was a large cut in state financing to the town’s education cost sharing grant. The state’s financial state had caused us to lose funding and impose a mill rate increase in order to make up for the lost funding. While the state continues to face budget challenges, our town must continue to focus on fiscal responsibility so that if cuts like this happen again we don’t need take the same action. When dealing with the health insurance plan, we were facing an unusual number of claims which was causing us to pay more for our self-insured plan, which for years had been saving the town money. Our solution was to join the state partnership plan that allows us to have a better idea of how much to budget since this is not a claim-based plan.
2) The most important issue we face year after year is the budget. We often don’t have a lot of wiggle room due to rising costs from all areas. Therefore, the areas of the budget where we are able to make changes and keep increases minimal, are areas that directly impact the community for years to come. This creates a very focused dive into line items that can wait or be paid for in different ways. One way the council has gone about this is by using bonds to pay for big ticket items. We currently have a road bond that allows us to focus on roads every year that are in desperate need of repair while we pay for the cost over time and avoid large bills to the town. Another example is the fire truck bond. Our fire department was long overdue for fire trucks as they had two older than the usual 20-year life. Facing challenges doing repairs on their pumper truck, we were asked to purchase a new one. Instead of using large sums over years of payments in our capital improvement budget, we decided to bond both trucks as a more fiscally responsible way to pay for these large ticket items worth $2 million. We plan to continue facing fiscal challenges head on in order to maintain minimal budget increases.
3) Over the next term, economic development will be a focus of mine and the town council. As the liaison for the economic development agency for the last two years, I plan to continue focusing on growing our town’s revenue through supporting our local businesses. Along with this we plan to continue to implement financial processes that have opportunities to create cost savings. Much like our fiber project has the opportunity for us to stop paying into monthly and yearly service plans. We want to focus on our goal, maintaining our community and its worth, while being as fiscally responsible as possible. Thank you.
1) I agree with the town joining the state partnership plan to mitigate the effects of such occurrences. The plan is favorably received by employees of the town and board of education while providing clarity in budgeting for the health insurance benefits of our employees. Closing the gap in the budget often times results in the town transferring dollars out of our fund balance or “rainy day fund.”
2) Wheeler School renovation project. Both education and municipal needs continue to grow due to contractual obligations, along with our water pollution control plant; long term capital expenditures; health care and retirement benefits are ongoing challenges; creating a solid financial plan despite unknown challenges from the state; and public safety in our schools.
3) Maintaining existing programs and services without raising taxes, such as snow and leaf removal; library operations; senior services and park and recreation activities; looking for new revenue sources other than taxes / economic development; continue supporting public safety in our schools; grant money received for education from the state; health care and retirement benefits are ongoing challenges; both education and municipal needs continue to grow due to contractual obligations; and long term capital expenditures.
1) For several years, the Town of Plainville had a self-insured health plan. This town budget for claims but had experienced unpredictable claim volumes resulting in substantially increased costs. Closing the gap in the budget often resulted in the town transferring dollars out of our fund balance or “rainy day fund.” This practice was viewed as unsustainable by the council. The town joined the state partnership plan to mitigate the effects of such occurrences. The plan is favorably received by employees of the town and board of education while providing clarity in budgeting for the health insurance benefits of our employees. Reductions in state aid specifically the education cost sharing grant proved problematic for Plainville. An interim mill rate increase was implemented to overcome a midyear reduction in state aid to Plainville. The teachers’ retirement under funding by the State of Connecticut continues as a potential cost which may potentially be passed on to local municipalities. Plainville’s annual cost could be as much as $100,000 or more if this occurs. We maintain a close relationship with our representatives in Hartford who constantly lobby for our community’s best interests.
2) Creating a solid financial plan despite unknown challenges from the state continue to be a top priority. Both education and municipal needs continue to grow due to contractual obligations. These obligations paired with increases in health care and retirement benefits are ongoing challenges. Thoughtful reorganizing of departments addressing retirements and open positions has allowed some cost savings while continuing service delivery. Our creative long term capital expenditures management plan has permitted our road paving program to flourish. Additionally, the town successfully passed a referendum allowing for the purchase of two new pieces of firefighting apparatus. Continuing to oversee the upgrade to our water pollution control plant and the final phase of the Wheeler School renovation project are priorities important to the town.
3) Maintaining existing programs and services while creating stable budgets that our citizens can support is crucial. Expanding economic development opportunities will enhance our grand list and assist in continuing services including snow and leaf removal, library operations, senior center services and park and recreation activities along with public safety and education initiatives. The ongoing problem in Connecticut is an over reliance on local property taxes. As additional unfunded mandates are passed to the cities and towns the challenge in seeking additional revenue continues. Cost containment is of course always a goal but without additional funding from other sources the stress of continuing services is ever present. Supporting regionalization of certain services with our neighboring towns continues to be a successful approach to particular projects and service delivery. Expansion of these relationships would bring cost savings as well as coordination of activities beneficial to all involved. I also believe providing support for our major events such as Wings and Wheels, the hot air balloon festival and the pumpkin fest creates a positive image of Plainville and invites others to join our town in backing our local charities.
1) While I did not serve during the last term, it is my understanding that the town was facing issues involving its self-insured health plan. The town was experiencing unpredictable claim volumes which lead to increased costs. The council was paying for this plan via transfers out of the fund balance or “rainy day fund.” Had I been on the council I would’ve made this plan a top priority for reform as relying on transfers out of the fund balance is not a fiscally responsible plan. The council decided to join the state partnership plan to offset the effects of this plan. I would’ve supported the council in this decision as it provides more stable costs which allow the town to maintain a more stable budget
2) During the last term the council faced major budget challenges due to the uncertainty of the state’s budget. Fund sources from the state were at risk, while the needs of the town continue to grow. I would’ve worked with other members of the council to develop a plan to compensate for the uncertainty in the state and meet the needs of the town. I would’ve worked close with town personnel from all departments to discover cost savings, and determine what needs need to be met to continue providing quality services. Developing innovative plans to provide these services is an ongoing issue given the uncertainty within the state. The council succeeded in developing a creative long-term capital expenditure plan to meet the needs of the town. Plans such as this would’ve been my focus if I were on the council at this time.
3) The most important issue facing the council over the next term is ensuring that the Plainville education system is able to provide a quality education, and offer extracurricular activities that are crucial in a child’s development. Providing the board of education with their needs while maintaining a responsible budget is going to be the biggest challenge faced by the council in the next term. With cuts from the state continuing it is becoming more and more difficult to ensure our schools have everything they need. I would address this issue by working closely with BOE to determine the needs of the school system, and which areas require the most attention. Working closely with the BOE and other council members will be essential in developing a sound budget that will deliver the education our children deserve.
Wayne L. Fish
Wayne L. Fish did not return his questionnaire for review. He is an independent Plainville candidate seeking a seat on the Plainville Town Council.