LETTER: Make Shelton’s budget process more transparent

To the Editor:

I have the honor and privilege of serving on Shelton’s Board of Apportionment and Taxation (A&T). My first term on A&T has been both a learning and eye-opening experience.

The purpose of this letter is to share some of what I have learned and to respectfully express my concerns about the budget process in Shelton.

Our city government is comprised of different departments that are required to submit yearly budget requests. The mayor reviews the requests and then presents his own recommended budget to A&T and the Board of Aldermen (BOA).

Pursuant to the City Charter, A&T is required to review the budget requests during public hearings. These hearings may include meetings with department representatives, who are given the opportunity to present an overview of the department’s budget request and to answer questions from members of A&T and BOA.

A&T scrutinizes the budget requests during its own workshops and ultimately presents its budget recommendations to BOA. After its own deliberations and vote, BOA sets the city’s budget.

Much to my dismay, not every department attends the hearings to discuss its budget requests. This is concerning because not all information can be ascertained from the budget documents that are provided to board members.

As a result, various board members have questions. For example, many departments consistently return a large amount of money to the city. This practice contributes to our large city surplus.

In addition, several departments budget for the same full-time employee positions that have not been filled for many consecutive years.

Both of these examples beg the question of whether a particular department really needs the full amount of its budget request. If funding is not needed, then perhaps it can be used by another department or for other purposes, including lowering our taxes.

Last year, I raised concern over the non-appearance of certain departments and was instructed to submit my questions in writing. I complied with the request but never received any answers.

This year, in addition to the non-appearance of certain departments, there have been other frustrating matters that include the failure of several departments to submit timely budget requests. As a result, A&T and BOA initially received incomplete budget-related documents.

Out of respect and courtesy to the Shelton taxpayers, the elected boards and other departments, I would expect each department to send a representative every year to the budget hearings even if the department’s presence is not required by the City Charter.

The police and fire departments, senior center, library and Board of Education are just some examples of those that should be commended for sending representatives year after year and for being well prepared and ready to answer questions.

The budget process greatly impacts all residents, no matter what their political affiliation, because it involves setting Shelton’s tax rate and providing money for city services.

Shelton’s taxpayers deserve a better and more transparent budget process.

Louis J. Dagostine III

Board of Apportionment and Taxation member

Editor’s note: Louis J. Dagostine III is a Democrat.