Despite budget cuts, Branford schools have a surplus of money. And at Wednesday's RTM meeting, representatives decided the Board of Education should consider using it before asking taxpayers to help out with potentially expensive bonds.
"Every year we do the budget, we vote to cut so much out," Republican clerk Dennis Flanagan told the board. "Now what we're hearing is, there's a surplus. They always come up with a surplus after we do the budget, so why not take some of that surplus and use the budget?" (The RTM approved the town budget at their last meeting in May, at a meeting that saw .)
Members voted 14-10 to reject a request that would have allowed $35,000 in bonds to be taken out to cover the design of relocated Board of Education offices at . The bonds would have been paid by Branford taxpayers. Several members expressed doubt the expanded offices were in line with schools' mission to serve children first.
"I think it's time to ask what the children need more than what grown men in an office need," said Democrat Dorothy Maynard. Maynard told the board about two boys who knocked on her door and begged her, "We need quiet," referring to . Some RTM members also suggested any Board of Education office design should wait until soundproofing had been perfected.
Later that night, the board dealt another blow to Board of Education capital improvements requests when they unanimously supported Republican Peter Black's amendment to hold back on repairs to Branford Hills school as part of a $1.7 million package for roof repair across several schools. Branford Hills was abandoned as a school in 1991 and is used irregularly for meetings, storage and day care. on the school.
"It's time to cut our losses on this," he said. "It looks like a prison. It's falling apart. Maybe we could use this site for a senior center, but we'd probably have to raze the building."
Not all Democrats agreed the building should go, but all agreed to wait, at least until seeing a report commissioned by the town to help determine the future of the building.
"I'm in support of the amendment, and I'm also in support of putting this money back once we know what the plan is," Majority Leader Anthony Giardiello said. "I don't think we're too far, and it makes common sense."
The $1.7 million bond package was approved unanimously after Black's amendment was added. Meanwhile, a $1.65 bond proposal for a new townwide communication system for police, public works and sewers was approved without controversy.
But Republicans were unable to win out in another battle. Despite impassioned speeches from Republicans Richard Greenalch and Beth Bryan, the RTM voted to table a measure that would have required the First Selectman to get approval from the Board of Finance (or, at least, unanimous consent from other selectmen) before launching town lawsuits. In the wake of town lawsuits like the Tabor Land Case and the , Republicans had pushed the change as a way to avoid expensive legal bills.
"The premise is financial," Greenalch said. "A lawsuit is essentially like going to war. Since every other expense has review --" he pointed out an approval on the agenda for $500 -- "shouldn't this also have review? There was never a vote on these previous lawsuits, and on one close to $40,000 was spent. Think about it logically. If a first selectman can't convince three members of his own party, it might not be a good idea to go forward."
"If we do this, the first selectman would be reduced to a figurehead," Maynard said. "We elected a man who had all the qualities looking for in leadership. We're not talking finances, we're talking leadership. I would vote against anything that takes leadership away from a man who has done this town a lot of services and goods, and that has nothing to do with money."
The measure when it was drafted by former First Selectman John Opie, a Republican. Opie spoke to the RTM Wednesday in favor of bringing the rule change back under consideration. He compared the rule to a system of checks and balances.
"I don't see it degrades the power of the selectman at all. Frankly, a good leader will garner the support of his troops and go forward," he said.
Ultimately, the measure to indefinitely table the bill for the remainder of the session passed with strong Democratic support -- with one Democrat, David Baker, voting no.