To The Daily Sun,
Last Saturday I spent my morning sitting through a joint budget hearing for the Town of Bristol. During this hearing the town departments present their budgets to the town electboard and budget committee. The two biggest budget requests are the police and fire departments; including capital improvements and interest both departments are requesting over $1 million each.
The questions raised by the committee and board of selectman were of the mundane sort: Why is gas so expensive? Why so much overtime? In all fairness, the budget committee were told they are not to question policy but concern themselves with budget line items only, the selectboard, with a couple exceptions, seems satisfied with the status quo. Basically, what we have in Bristol is a rubber stamp government.
Last year the town ended up with a $200,000 surplus which was added to the ever-growing unexpended fund balance of more than $1 million. That's right, $1 million collected from taxpayers that wasn't needed or used, over twice what the DRA recommends for reserve in a town with a $5.7 million budget.
No one questioned why we needed an 11-member police force. The Commission for the Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) recommends an ideal of two officers per 1,000 population. Bristol's population is stable at 3,054 according to the last census. I know we need extra coverage during the summer. So why do we schedule our new hires to the academy and let our regular officers take vacation time during the summer, our busiest time of the year? If we hadn't had a 50 percent turnover rate in police officers last year maybe we could have reduced academy time? No one asked why we have such a high turnover rate.
The other large request was from our fire department with eight full-time employees. I want to be clear on this, I am not disparaging anyone on the department. As a matter of fact they are a group of dedicated professionals and deserve our praise.
What I question is, is it in the best interest of the town taxpayers to extend our EMT services to Hill, Alexandria and Danbury? When our full-time staffed ambulance is out on a call, oftentimes, an ambulance from a neighboring community is called in to cover Bristol under mutual aid. If I were a taxpayer from one of those donor mutual aid communities how would I feel knowing my tax dollars were covering for Bristol while they were out on a contractual run?
Under the current agreement, the three towns that Bristol covers reimburse Bristol by the number of calls, so if a town doesn't have any calls then theoretically Bristol taxpayers would be paying all costs incurred; station, trained personnel, ambulances, health, disability, life insurance, retirement, equipment, medical supplies, ambulance service billing and a hundred other items. This is not an equitable system and should be revised to better share the tax burden currently born by the taxpayers of Bristol and other communities.
The chairperson of the budget committee has stated that the board will not permit any public comment on these important questions at regular sessions of the budget committee. If that is the attitude of town officials we the taxpayers and voters should sponsor a warrant article to correct this system and go directly to the people.
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