It is budget time again in Fairfield. The process approved by the voters is described in Chapter XII of the Town Charter, but you will not recognize it from the newspaper reports that will be coming out over the next three months.
The ultimate budget decider is the Representative Town Meeting, which must hold a budget meeting the first Monday of May every year, at which time the Board of Finance must recommend a budget for the coming fiscal year. After that meeting and the final RTM vote, the Board of Finance then sets the mill rate to levy taxes on our real property, based on that vote and a report from the Board of Assessment Appeals on the grand list.
Despite what many think, neither the first selectman nor nor the superintendent of schools are the ones who ask our town legislature, the RTM, to raise or lower our taxes. In fact, the school superintendent is not even mentioned in the town charter, as the Board of Education is the department head for budget purposes.
The first selectman is required by charter to propose a budget to the Board of Selectman in time for that board to recommend a budget to the Board of Finance two months before the May RTM's budget meeting -- in other words, no later than early March. That never happens. The finance board is then supposed to hold a hearing on the selectmen's budget proposal in March, and then hold a public meeting in time to decide what budget to suggest to the RTM. That never happens exactly either. You can follow along in the newspaper to see what does happen, and it is not pretty.
The charter allows for a variation of the budget procedure. The charter says: "The Board of Selectmen, with the approval of the Board of Finance, may modify and vary the budget submission process in the interest of efficiency or in the event of special circumstances." Anyone who has ever seen the discussion and vote on the variation reported by the press must also be spotting Elvis.
The budget process as defined in the town charter, or as varied annually without following the charter and the rules of open government, stinks. But nobody on the Board of Selectmen or Board of Finance wants to deal with fixing it. They just ignore the charter and meld the process because they can.
Ain't Fairfield town government grand!