Voters OK with 2011 budget

NORTH CANAAN — The wait is over. A town budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 was approved at a town meeting May 31. It was the third scheduled meeting, with town officials putting off a vote on $6.5 million in proposed local spending in the hopes that the state would resolve its budgeting issues. Much still rides on decisions made in Hartford. The biggest concern is a potential cut to the town’s education grants, which offset about $2.5 million in education spending here. The plan was to wait and see, and if worse came to worst, look for further budget cuts rather than raise taxes.The approximately 30 voters in attendance unanimously approved a proposed budget with a $91,000 drop in spending at North Canaan Elementary School from this year’s budget; and a $121,000 decrease in municipal expenses. That cushion inspired confidence that state aid cuts could be absorbed.“Even given all the things going on in Hartford,” finance board Chairman Louis Allyn said, “we are more optimistic than we were two weeks ago.”When asked, he called it a “fair assumption” that the mill rate would not change. The finance board was expected to make that decision at its June 8 meeting.“If we get blindsided by Hartford, we do have options,” Allyn said.Resident state trooperAmong the options would be amending a decision made prior to the budget vote to renew the resident state trooper contract. The town has 30 days from the vote to reverse its decision on the two-year agreement.If it comes down to that, much public debate can be expected. Most of last week’s 25-minute meeting was devoted to discussing the value of the resident state trooper program. The town has no power to negotiate the cost. The state passes along 70 percent of all program costs. The coming year will see an increase of 9.6 percent to $79,890. A motion to renew the contract received two dissenting votes. If it comes down to a tax increase to keep the program, things might go differently.During the May 31 discussion, residents were assured by Resident State Trooper Jim Promotico that he only puts in overtime during Railroad Days, which is included in the budget, so the actual expenditures will not increase.Wheaton Byers asked Promotico and former Resident State Trooper Bob Janco, now a sergeant at Troop B, to find a way to show the effectiveness of the program, which includes teaching the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) at North Canaan Elementary School.Janco said DARE allows the trooper to get to know the children and their families, and to encourage the students into positive behaviors, including joining the State Police Explorers program. There was a shocked response when he added that he had children disclose to him that they were being sexually assaulted.That revelation may have been the deciding factor for those in attendance who seemed to be uncertain about how to vote. It is also a good example of how the public will never see the whole picture. Sexual assault cases involving children are not always made public, and never before an arrest is made. Janco said making a determination on the effectiveness of DARE would require tracking students for years. But he was able to cite a few examples of former DARE students who have gone on to serve in the military and such. As for stemming the tide of illegal drugs, Janco said much of what happens in those investigations is classified information, “stuff you’ll never know about,” such as protected informants. He offered instead the perspective that North Canaan’s location on two state highways, the low-income housing that surrounding towns do not have and a drug rehabilitation facility here mean a higher rate of illegal drug activity is a given.

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