Throughout the Campaign
Thursday, October 24, 2013 • 11:41am
The number one issue that has been brought up as I walk door to door throughout this campaign is how high our taxes are for the services that we receive. Some seniors have mentioned to me that they are considering moving out of our town altogether because of the taxes. I agree with these residents that we are paying more and getting less in return for our tax dollars. Our roads are in bad shape, our trees aren’t maintained, and Fire, Police and Public Works services have been badly cut.
There’s no question that economic times have been tough. We haven’t, however, maximized our non-tax revenue. We haven’t done everything we could to bring into the town non-tax money and to only spend on necessary items. Instead we have relied on spending down our old sale of assets account, on increased borrowing and a sewer tax to get us through.
In 2010 we refused a completely free energy audit of the town facility. This was made possible by money from the federal stimulus program set aside specifically for Westfield to use as matching funds to participate in one of the state energy savings programs. This didn’t require competing against other towns. In fact we could have used that federal money as matching money in another state program to get up to $50,000 worth of free energy saving equipment.
Over 95% of the eligible towns found ways to use that money. Westfield did not. We can save a substantial amount by privatizing the operation of the conservation center, several years after I first proposed this we still have not committed to writing a request for proposals to see what savings might be available even though everyone on the finance committee has agreed that we should do this.
Last year Standard & Poor’s said, “The town has experienced a net operating loss each year since 2006" when Skibitsky was elected mayor. S&P lowered Westfield’s bond rating because of it (Patch July 3, 2012), which means under Skibitsky it now costs us more than it did when he became mayor for the town to borrow money. I will make certain that we balance our budget and restore the S&P rating.
When the town finally balanced the budget this year, Mayor Skibitsky went out and borrowed money to buy a Mobile Command Center for $240,000. This “need” didn’t come out of our department heads roundtable review of the town’s response to Hurricane Sandy and no one has yet given an example of the circumstances that might cause us to need it. This money could have been spent to improve our town such as paving roads that have not been paved in years, or increasing our fire department staffing to a level where we won’t have any more homes burn down because we can initially only get three firemen to the fire.
This purchase is symptomatic of an increase in borrowing under the current mayor. In 2005, the year Skibitsky was appointed mayor, the Town spent $960,000 for the payment of bond principal, anticipation notes and capital notes and interest thereon. By comparison, after 8 years of Skibitsky, in 2013 the Town Budget shows that we will pay $2,150,000 in these expenses. That’s an increase of nearly 125%.
During Skibitsky’s second term as mayor alone, the taxpayers of Westfield have paid $7.2 million in debt service. And during the seven years that Westfield has operated at a loss under Skibitsky, he raised our taxes every year. And last year he also imposed the $170 sewer tax on top of it. Westfield needs to make a change at the top to break from this style of management of our town’s finances.
When elected Mayor of Westfield I know there will be tough choices to make with our town’s finances. I won’t just tell you that we had hard choices to make if we have to again cut crossing guards, firemen, police and public works employees. I will open our town’s financial books by having all department heads present their budgets in a meeting that is open to the public and will open all budget discussions that don’t involve personnel issues so that you’ll know what tradeoffs were involved in that hard choice. We deserve an open and transparent way of knowing how AND WHY our tax dollars are being spent. That openness will ensure that we are only spending our tax payer dollars on essential capital projects. I ask for your vote on November 5th to help continuing to improve Westfield.