Every year I try to go to my condo association meeting, just to see what’s what. This year, hardly anyone else showed up. This was not surprising. There was no assessment, no increase in fees to be discussed, and people’s interest tends to align with the impact on their wallets.
That’s been happening in a big way now in Meriden, where the impact on wallets perspective has taken the City Council’s budget to task. Enough city residents have banded together to force a referendum, which is expected in the middle of next month, somewhere between July 10 and July 20.
Our system of government allows us to vote the bums out; it’s typically at the ballot box that we get to voice our displeasure, but in the Silver City there’s also the opportunity to intervene outside the election process. The City Charter says that if you get more than half of the voters who participated in the last municipal election, in this case 4,111 votes, you can force a referendum. Now there’s a chance for voters to tell the council to go back to the drawing board. If that happens, the council has until mid-August to come up with another budget.
The one on the books at the moment is a $197.9 million budget that requires a 4.66-percent tax increase — that adds up to about $200 more in taxes for the average residential homeowner.
Resident Michael Carabetta led the push for the referendum. More than 2,800 signatures were collected. As the Record-Journal’s Leigh Tauss has reported, it’s the first time a budget will undergo a referendum since the possibility was set up in the charter a little more than two decades ago.
“It sends the message that there is a way for us to have a voice if you have the energy to get up and do it,” said Carabetta.
“People are sick of the shenanigans — overspending needs to stop,” said Sharon Milano, who helped gather signatures.
OK. Point taken.
Now the task at hand is to get enough support for the vote to upend the budget. But the larger task at hand, the one that really matters, is determining what it is you’re willing to do without in order to reduce spending.
In other words, right now we’re at the criticism stage. We need the segue into the solution stage.
There have been some high-profile examples of how this can not work out. For seven years, Republicans slammed Obamacare, making great political hay with their ridicule. But when it finally became their turn to do something about it they came up empty. Similarly, critics of spending in Connecticut during the last election cycle were fond of saying that Connecticut doesn’t have a revenue problem it has a spending problem, but when asked to dig down into the details, as in what services the state should do without, the response wasn’t so pithy.
This is what Democratic Majority Leader David Lowell has been getting at. He would like to see questions added to the referendum to see what residents think should be sliced.
“It isn’t good enough for people to complain and say ‘I don’t want a tax increase,’” he said. “What is helpful is to make it constructive.”
While it doesn’t win points from the try-not-to-be-antagonistic perspective, Lowell’s statement is correct. You could say it’s the council’s job, but the referendum is already on its way to rejecting council efforts, and if members of the council are still expected to represent the people they are going to need some help.
What you can live without and what your neighbor can live without can be entirely different things. Time for everyone to step in so we can find out.
Reach Jeffery Kurz at 203-317-2213, or firstname.lastname@example.org.