Town Councilor Cary Prague wants to see South Windsor present its budgets like the town of Tolland, which has won several awards for its budget books in the last several years.
By contrast, South Windsor’s budget materials, according to Prague, are difficult to decipher and digest.
At the Town Council’s meeting on Monday evening, Prague, to prove his point, showed during a presentation a South Windsor town report from 1926 that he had just purchased off of eBay.
Among the interesting factoids - like 80 percent of the tax revenue was actually collected that year and that the town considered closing Dart Hill school and transferring the kids to Wapping - was that the budget was just a compilation of numbers and charts.
“It’s just jumbles of numbers,” Prague said, noting that, 86 years later, “nothing has changed.”
In 2012, just as in 1926, Prague said, the town’s budget is “not categorized or calendarized.”
Tolland, by contrast, compiles a budget book that, among other things, is goal-oriented; is calendarized (shows how the money is spent over the 12-month fiscal year); shows the relationship between the department that is listed in the budget to the town; shows the full-time equivalent employees; provides a citizens’ guide; and displays spending from the past, present and future.
What’s more, Tolland’s budget has charts, graphs and graphics that help the reader digest what is being presented.
“A picture is worth a thousand words,” Prague said. “A graph is worth a thousand numbers.”
Prague said that the idea was to help residents understand how their money is being spent and also to prevent situations like what he called “Saltgate,” when Councilor Kevin McCann managed to show that the thousands of dollars requested for road salt last year was unnecessary because the town already had plenty of salt.
“[Tolland’s method] will be a consistent way of looking at the budget,” Prague said. “The public wants to know how it’s spending its money.”
And while the proposal - which Prague said he hoped could be implemented for the 2013-14 budget cycle - was generally well-received by his Republican counterparts on the Town Council, several people were somewhat cooler to the presentation, but for different reasons.
Town Councilor Keith Yagaloff said that Tolland approves its budget differently - by referendum - than South Windsor, which does so through the Town Council.
As such, different materials need to be compiled to make the information easier to understand. Yagaloff said that he was able to understand the budget data provided to him from the various departments.
The real issue, Yagaloff said, was that councilors vote on the budget based on “personal preferences.”
“The party in power votes for its priorities, the party not in power does not get its priorities,” he said.
Yagaloff asked if the goal of the new budget presentation that Prague was proposing was to reduce spending and taxes or to justify tax increases like the one that took effect last year.
Resident Don Gonsalves, however, said during public comment that Prague’s proposal did not go far enough.
Gonsalves, who said that he was the chief financial officer for several large companies, said that the budget needed to be broken down in financial reports month-by-month.
“As a taxpayer, I am not happy how this town is run,” Gonsalves, who has asked for a monthly financial statement to be generated by the town for six years, said.
He then challenged the members of the Town Council whether they knew how much was contained in the fund balance.
“I think it’s a disgrace that the council does not know the fund balance of the town,” he said, noting that he heard the town had $5.1 million. With $12 million potentially going out to a referendum, the town should have a fund balance of at least $7.5 million and that $10 million would be ideal.
Gonsalves also said that he heard that $1.5 million was taken out of the fund balance last year for the 2012-13 fiscal year, yet he was unaware of any supporting documentation of how much of the fund balance was actually used.
A month-by-month financial statement would provide that information and keep the town from relying on just one employee - Matthew Galligan - from having the answer to his questions, Gonsalves said.
Mayor Tom Delnicki said that Prague’s input was greatly appreciated and a good jumping off point for future discussions.