Categories

Home » Opinion » Letters to the Editor » Letter to the Editor: Haddam Deserves Better

Letter to the Editor: Haddam Deserves Better

The views stated here are those of the individual contributor and do not necessarily reflect those of the staff of HaddamNow.com.

Haddam Deserves Better

The negativity, false information and personal attacks during this campaign season have reached a ridiculous level and are at a point that I cannot let baseless accusations and inaccuracies posted on this site stand unchallenged. The readers and all residents of Haddam deserve better, so let’s set the record straight.

Budget Time

Working on the budget takes countless hours of determination and research and serving on the Board of Finance is also hard work that requires close attention to detail. Therefore, I find it disturbing that a long-serving Board of Finance member and candidate would be confused about the numbers presented. I have never said I brought in $1.7 million in grants and I have never said I reduced the first year budget by $600,000. I urge the author of those statements to revisit the article.

Prior to my election, the town budgets had been steadily increasing over the years. When I took office in November 2013, the Board of Selectmen and I started working hard to reverse that trend. In the process, we found out that one factor contributing to these increases was over-budgeting by some departments (some up to 50% more than needed). Using the zero-based budget approach, we made the appropriate adjustments to budgets so that each department had adequate funding without the extra padding that drives up the tax rate.

Of course we’ll never get everyone to agree on all budget decisions, but these decisions are made unanimously and in a bipartisan manner with Selectman Sean Donlan (D) and Selectman Bob Duval (R), for the good of the town as a whole.

Through renegotiating contracts, finding better pricing and cleaning up some old habits, we saved over $500,000 during the first six months alone, which set the stage for a leaner budget for the next two years. It also allowed us to finally set aside a large amount of funding for some long overdue road projects without adding to the bottom line.

Our zero-based approach was new to all departments and the Board of Finance. It can seem daunting and confusing at first and it takes work, research and cooperation. But in the end, every department received the funding they needed based on actual expenditures, and as a result our town operating budget was reduced twice.

Emergency Services

We are incredibly grateful for our volunteer firemen and, as busy as they are doing their life-saving work, we have been happy to help them with their back office work, budget process and purchasing functions for more cost savings. For years the fire department has consistently had a significant amount of money left over at the end of each fiscal year. By law, those unspent funds can’t be rolled over to the next year and must go back to the general fund as surplus.

Due to the over-budgeting each year, the taxpayers were asked to pay more than they had to. The Board of Finance had never picked this up. Going forward, I helped the Board of Selectmen adopt widely used professional budgeting strategies that sets budgets based on both department requests and actual historical spending.

Contrary to what has been written, the fire department received adequate funding to perform their duties, finished the last two years with significant money to spare and in fact this year, they are ordering four new trucks. Furthermore, as is the normal practice, the town always has a contingency line set aside for unforeseen emergency funding for any department.

As for the Haddam Volunteer Ambulance Service, who also works tirelessly for our health and safety, they were fully funded this year. In fact, the Board of Selectmen appropriated an additional $30,000 in the capital plan for the purchase of a new ambulance, making their total more than they received previously.

Those who say we have neglected our emergency services and first responders are simply dishonest.

I have to add I find it quite ironic and a bit comical that the Republican Board of Finance candidates are arguing with the Board of Selectmen and me because we have trimmed waste and cut costs two years in a row.

Haddam Public Health (HPH)

HPH received exactly what they needed for their employee to perform her job. Their budget is down over previous years because during the budget process I noticed their workers’ compensation insurance had been costing them $10,000 annually for one full time employee. (For comparison, the library pays only $600 for all 11 employees combined.) At my suggestion, their treasurer looked into the issue and found the insurance company had misclassified the employee. As a result, the annual workers’ compensation premium dropped from $10,000 to $500.

Emergency Plan

Again, contrary to what has been posted here, the town has an emergency plan that we are in the process of updating for the first time in 20 years thanks to Doug Dole from Haddam Volunteer Ambulance Service and Alan Alonzo our Emergency Management Director. We are updating and modernizing the plan with input from the fire department, state troopers and Chatham Health, our public health district. We also have an extremely comprehensive Natural Hazard Plan just accepted and instituted last year. Chatham Health also has an emergency plan in place that is approved by the state each year, which covers our town for mass inoculations, epidemics and much more.

Safety Committee

The town has an excellent safety committee consisting of new members with safety/training experience. In fact, last year we implemented a new online accident reporting procedure; workers’ compensation procedures; supervisor reporting requirements; accident investigation procedures; and OSHA and hazard mitigation training. We also have had voluntary training sessions with our insurance company, thereby reducing our liability and costs. As ADA Coordinator, I have begun the certification process and will be auditing all town buildings for ADA violations; I will be applying for special ADA grants to bring some buildings up to code; and last year we budgeted capital funds to replace the senior center ramp this coming spring.

Education

I chuckle every time I hear from opponents that I’m against education, our schools and our children. In fact, I think college and trade school should be free for every child in America to keep us technologically ahead of other world economies. It is very disheartening that those who consistently say I’m against the schools have never once asked me for my opinion or ideas. Assuming or repeating false rumors is weak and divisive.

I’ve met with Superintendent Thiery many times, I’ve met with the BOE chair, I’ve been to BOE meetings and even volunteered to be on the new BOE health insurance committee as I believe this is an area where we can save money. I am also working with RSD17 Maintenance Director Mike Distefano, and Killingworth First Selectman Cathy Iino to find ways the school and towns could share services, thereby lowering costs for all.

Declining enrollment is not something specific to Haddam. In my tenure on the M.O.R.E. Commission (Municipal Opportunities Regional Efficiencies) and on the Technology subgroup, it is a recurring theme of discussions among teachers and professional educators. The technology subgroup is looking for ways to share education services and programs to find creative and innovative ways to save money on non-educational expenses, thereby decreasing the cost to each school district.

The MORE Commission is also fighting unfunded mandates and they are pushing for a bill that would require a 2/3 vote of the legislature for new unfunded mandates. This does not mean that they are anti-education. The declining population is a statewide issue that demands immediate attention.

Just because one asks for comprehensive planning, research, sharing of services and a good scouring of the budget for savings does not mean one is against education. On the contrary.

Complaints

I have been subject to two complaints submitted to the SEEC and FOIA commission by the chair of the Haddam Republican Town Committee (HRTC). She made those complaints based on secondhand misinformation she received from Mr. Craig Anderson.  These complaints are unfounded and will be tossed out in good time. However, the SEEC and FOI commission must statutorily investigate every complaint no matter how ridiculous. During the “silly season” (election time), those agencies are inundated with these petty partisan complaints.

The subject of the HRTC chair’s complaints is a meeting I held for residents about upcoming work to be done on their longstanding road issues. These types of meetings are nothing new. Our town engineer has done this for countless other communities including our own town under previous administrations.

This meeting was neither illegal per FOI statutes (it was not a meeting of a board or commission and therefore did not require a notice) nor illegal per SEEC rules.

I would urge the HRTC Chair to take an FOI class or brush up on the statutes before she puts her name to such complaints.

Mr. Anderson’s letter stating his experience at that meeting is nothing more than a blatant political attack with a totally fabricated story.

In the end, it is taxpayers’ dollars that pay for every complaint sent to the SEEC and FOI commission to investigate. The SEEC and FOI Commission do a wonderful job keeping our elections clean and our officials accountable; however, for opponents to waste our resources on unsubstantiated or fabricated complaints is fiscally irresponsible at best.

In response to Haddam Civic League Bruno Morasutti’s accusatory comments:

I take exception to Mr. Morasutti’s comments and find his accusations incredibly unprofessional, especially as a practicing attorney and former town counsel.

For the record, I have never gone through any employee’s desk or asked any employee to bring anything back home. Ever.

As for the administration putting obstacles to the potential new pharmacy, Mr. Morasutti might be a little confused about the process with regard to village regulations, zoning regulations, the Architectural Review Committee and the Planning and Zoning Board.

Those boards and regulations fully dictate what, where and how buildings can be erected in the center of our town. The First Selectman and the Board of Selectmen have absolutely no statutory power or control over any of these regulations or boards, we can only give our opinion. For the record again, I have never treated the proprietor poorly; on the contrary, I met with him personally on multiple occasions to try to help however we could.

As for the tax collector punching a time clock, Mr. Morasutti is also incorrect.

I asked all elected officials, including myself, to fill out a timesheet for workers’ compensation, pension and accountability reasons. Our pension rules clearly state an employee must work 1,500 hours annually to be eligible for the pension. There was one elected official who did not reach the 1,500-hour minimum and there was no official accounting for it. There also has to be good records for any workers’ compensation issues that might arise. Furthermore, I would seriously question why any public servant who receives generous health and dental benefits, pension, life insurance and extensive vacation time, would be afraid of accountability for their work on a timesheet.

Campaigning

Political campaigns should be all about the town’s future direction, the job of First Selectman and where candidates agree or disagree.

I’m at a loss to understand the unabashed false statements and distorting of facts that have been made and how this can possibly move Haddam forward.

The people of Haddam deserve better.

Melissa Schlag

First Selectman, Haddam

 

 

Please follow and like us:

10 Responses to Letter to the Editor: Haddam Deserves Better

  1. Diane Cullen

    November 1, 2015 at 9:37 pm

    I have lived in Higganum since the mid 1990s. I have never seen the level of divisiveness in town as it is today. It started shortly after Ms Schlag took office. One may call it a coincidence or bad timing but I don’t think so. The leader sets the tone for a community. There seem to be two factions that have developed in town consisting of those who volunteer and take a very active role in the community and those who do not and receive a significant portion of their information through the Haddam Bulletin. The former has serious concerns about Ms Schlag and her ability to work collaboratively and move Haddam forward; The latter who have read positive story, after positive story about her during the last two years in the Haddam Bulletin and are her supporters.

    I can’t comment on many of the specific things within Ms Schlag’s letter, but I will tell you I know first hand that Ms Schlag did try to cut Emergency Sevices, angering many volunteers in the process. I also know the Board of Finance, not the Board of Selectman reinstated their necessary funding contrary to what the “Got Truth?” flyer said.

    With respect to the town meeting at a private residence, was it posted as required? I as a resident did not know about it. That should be easy to prove but the fact we haven’t seen that mentioned leads me to believe it was not. Bottom line, it is not appropriate and shouldn’t happen at any time, let alone during campaign season, regardless if signs were present or not.

    I can also say that unequivocally her actions have been that of someone who does not support the schools in town. Maybe she feels differently but she doesn’t act that way. She has openly blamed the Board of Edication for the tax problem and during the debate actually stated that her rationale for open space was to prevent families from building on land and bringing in kids “that we would have to educate.” I and many others agree that open space is good, but I never expected that as the rationale. Imagine doing what Old Saybrook does and creating a brochure touting our schools and providing that to potential new homeowners and businesses.

    I also have not witnessed the level of professionalism that one would expect from a First Selectman. For example, I find it inappropriate that she engages in some of the very negative dialogue on social media.

    So in closing, the only part of this letter that I really agree with is the title, Haddam Deserves Better.

  2. Sue Twachtman

    November 1, 2015 at 10:06 pm

    My guess is that things will get better in Haddam when we end the divisiveness and start talking honestly. Unfortunately, anyone opposing Melissa Schlag is at a tremendous disadvantage as the Haddam Bulletin is a tool to promote her and her views. Moreover, the HB’s “facts” are questionable and, when it comes to education specifically, the reporting is always biased. I am appreciative of Haddam Now and Killingworth Today for continuing to publish monthly Board of Education Updates. In addition, Region 17’s facebook page, improved website, BOE televised meetings, BOE public meetings and email notifications are great ways to find out what’s going on in the schools.

    As Chair of BOE, I am aware of how many times Melissa has met with the superintendent… it is not “many”. 2 or 3 tops and I attended each. She has not met with us separately. Once was to learn about the insurance transition since the town is on same plan.

    As Chair I invite Melissa to the joint meetings each year which is an opportunity to provide ideas and feedback on the school budget. In the last 2 years she went to 1 joint meeting with the BOE/BOS/BOF in 2014 (she provided no input/ideas/questions on the school budget). She went to 1 budget presentation at the senior center in 2015 (again, no input/ideas/questions), 1 BOE community input meeting (another opportunity to provide ideas) in 2015 where her 2 ideas would increase the budget, and 1 regular Board meeting in Fall 2015. Again, all BOE meetings are videotaped and on the RSD 17 website for all to see.

    It’s no secret that houses sell in towns with great schools. Region 17 has received many accolades during my tenure. To name a few- the “Newsweek Top High Schools in America” award for the past 2 years, the HK Middle School is a “School of Distinction” and HKHS has been on the Advanced Placement Honor Roll for the past 4 years. Our schools and teachers are tops in the State.

    Region 17’s student enrollment, after years of decline, is starting to increase and has been over the last 2 years or so. Our student population is close to 1998 levels. Population spiked around 2007 before it started to decline. Now it is creeping back up. Families are choosing Haddam to reside in and perhaps one major reason is due to Region 17’s accomplishments.

    Lastly, and most importantly, I don’t think “chuckling” over the seriousness of people having concerns over Melissa’s stance on education is the appropriate response if she truly valued our schools. Interestingly, in her letter above Melissa does not directly and unequivocally say that she supports our schools. If she were interested in contradicting any anti-school perceptions, perhaps a very clear statement to that point would be a good first step.

  3. Sheryl Wescott

    November 2, 2015 at 11:00 am

    Thank you for writning this Melissa. I wish that every resident would take the time to read, or re-read, this letter. You have done a remarkable job and I for one appreciate ALL that you have done to make this town a better place. Thank you.

  4. Tanja Buzzi Moriarty

    November 2, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    As a former selectman, (2003-2007), I can attest that First Selectman Melissa Schlag has done so much more good for Haddam in the past two years than the past two administrations combined.

    Under her leadership, she has:
    1. Scrutinized and trimmed budgets that ordinarily went on “business as usual” year after year;
    2. Boldly made people accountable who have wasted time and resources on the tax-payers’ dime;
    3. Made incredible in-roads with our representatives and officials in the region and in Hartford;
    4. Tirelessly put in more hours than any previous leader has or even should;
    5. Increased grants, moved projects along;
    6. Generally gave us hope/pride to be Higganum, Haddam and Haddam Neck residents once again!

    I am amazed at her resilience to hold her head above the political fray who have hit an all-time low with the outrageous lying, rumor spreading, and dirty tactics. This includes some of her opponents posing as administrators on a fake A Better Haddam Facebook page back in September!

    Divisiveness is not new to Haddam, folks. The two party system here has always been half-baked, half-hearted and sadly in-bred long before Melissa was elected. (Hence the need for independent parties, i.e. A Better Haddam, 2007).

    I have to have faith in informed, decent, fellow town residents who can see beyond the desperate, maniacal smoke-and-mirrors crap and recognize a good, hardworking public official when they’ve got one!

    Please join me in voting to re-elect Melissa Schlag as our First Selectman on Tuesday, November 3. She has made incredible headway for Haddam and needs to be able to continue what she has started for us or it will all go back to the same-old-same-old. Been there and done that.

  5. Bruno R. Morasutti

    November 2, 2015 at 12:50 pm

    I stand by all my statements.

    • Sean Moriarty

      November 2, 2015 at 2:56 pm

      Just because you stand by a statement doesn’t make it actually true. You as an attorney should realize that accusations without verifiable proof are jus a tool used to cause misdirection and unfounded doubt. The big truth here is that you were the town attorney for the he previous two administrations and were not retained by Ms. Schlag. Seeing that our town’s attorney’s fees went down by tens of thousands of dollars it would seem that you lost quite a bit of buisness. That could lead people to believe that you have an axe to grind against Ms. Schlag and your statements should be taken with a large grain of salt.

  6. Don

    November 2, 2015 at 3:29 pm

    I see no new businesses in town so that means Haddam is not moving forward. I agree that having more people move into town is not the answer, that just makes our taxes go even higher. We must start to be business friendly. The land swap deal would have been a small gold mine for the town but because of a few tree huggers we were denied the opportunity to lower out taxes. I don’t care who ever becomes select person of the town if they don’t support businesses then they are doing nothing to move the town in a positive direction.

  7. Jen Smith

    November 2, 2015 at 4:26 pm

    Haddam deserves a lot better than Melissa Schlag and her corrupt ways.

  8. Rich

    November 2, 2015 at 7:41 pm

    Who ever wins, please also re build the uneasy relationship between the first selectman and our fire & police. I hear the last two years, she was not very lovey dovey fuzzy with them.

  9. Rudy Urban

    November 5, 2015 at 1:47 pm

    In reference to accusations of corrupt activities: I am not a resident but know Melissa and my comments of suspicions are speculative at best. This was Melissa’s 1st term. Rather than be corrupt so soon, even too soon, I believe she encountered entrenched practices of corruption, or of questionable nature, in it’s forms that were already out there and she tried dealing with it. And it likely played out in her defeat. She was against the land swap and some may have held that against her. I defer to those who know more than I do.