Stern: Invest in improvements, keep taxes down
The finances of town of Westport are robust. Our credit rating is excellent, the tax base is rising and our reserves are funded to benchmark levels. However, like every town in Connecticut, contractual pension and health care liabilities remain critical problems for our future.
Total benefits in 2012 were $26 million or approximately 25 percent of Westport's budget. These payouts have doubled in the past five years. A careful renegotiation of our long-term contracts needs to be a priority to keep town costs from spiraling. During 2010, Helen Garten and I (both Democrats) helped successfully negotiate the first landmark contract to put limits on benefits and defined pension contributions. If re-elected, I promise to act professionally but with urgency to continue this important progress.
Westport has survived the Great Recession well. Despite the severe drop in town revenues, Westport Democrats conservatively managed spending while holding tax increases below 2 percent the last four years. This was achieved by making tough choices and building cooperative understandings with department heads (police and fire, etc.) and the Board of Education.
Now is the time to invest in Westport. Interest rates are low, and town revenues are increasing. My priorities will be to maintain our excellent education system, improve family amenities (such as Longshore Park, the beach and library), improve services for seniors and effectively manage the traffic challenges downtown.
If we are to invest yet simultaneously provide low taxes, we must improve town operational processes, eliminating waste wherever we see it. We don't need 55 committees to run this town. Productivity is essential and will be achieved with the full participation of all our great teachers and town employees.
Westport is a place where young families want to move and seniors want to stay. I shall work hard to keep it that way.