Letter: Disappointment With the ATBM

To the Editor:

I’ve thought long and hard about how to explain my disappointment and frustration with the outcome of last week’s Annual Town Budget Meeting (ATBM).

When I was Selectman, I was a proponent of the concept of the ATBM as the best example of participatory democracy in action — one evening in the year when concerned citizens would come together to deliberate the cost and manner of running the Town. But with year after year of suspended ATBMs due to lack of a quorum, I grew concerned that apathy was the only true outcome of the ATBM.

After participating in this year’s ATBM, I am fully convinced that the ATBM has become a vehicle to disrupt and to thwart the concept of true democracy. What we saw last week was the hijacking of the ATBM by a group representing less than 1% of the Town’s population, determined to reverse and overturn the months of work put into development of a responsible budget.

As homeowners, we all know the necessity of regular maintenance and upkeep of our homes. We also understand the need for preventative maintenance, often spending money on things that bring no joy or pleasure but which must be done to preserve the long-term value of the property. We understand that we must contract with people to provide the repair maintenance services.

It is exactly this need for current maintenance and forward-looking planning that was attacked and undone at the ATBM by a small minority of voters. I believe that the cuts which were proposed and approved were short-sighted and not in the interest of the Town as a whole.

I believe the cuts to the Operating and Capital budgets put the Town at risk, specifically by failing to fund measures to address safety and health risks at the Town Hall Annex (which was deemed beyond its serviceable life while I was still Selectman in 2015), by failing to approve funding for engineering and planning to remain in compliance with State of Connecticut mandates, and by cutting funding for sidewalks.

As an elected member of the Police Commission, I regularly hear the concerns of Weston residents about walking, biking and jogging on Town roads, especially in the center of town. The safety of town residents should be uppermost in our planning, and the elimination of funding for the completion of sidewalk constructions will negatively impact our seniors, our school children and our residents who are forced to use the roads instead of sidewalks for their leisure activities.

I am now firmly convinced that we need to find a replacement for the ATBM, a new system that allows all Town residents to vote on the Town budget without the threat of alterations or changes by a very small number of voters who only have the ability to reduce, but not to increase, the dollar amounts proposed. I recognize this will require a revision to the Town Charter, and I am fully supportive of proceeding with establishment of a working group to achieve this objective.

I hope that a good number of residents turn out to vote in the referendum on May 4th (or by absentee ballot before then) and recommend that they vote NO on questions 1 and 3, the Town Operating and Capital budgets, returning the question of the appropriate level of these two budgets to the Board of Finance for reconsideration. And it is critical to vote YES on question 2, supporting the full budget request of the Board of Education.

—  David Muller

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