A Referendum on the Way in West Hartford?

According to an article today in the Hartford Courant, the West Hartford Taxpayers Association (WHTA) is about 400 signatures away from forcing a referendum on the recently adopted town budget.

While I understand the concern that property taxes will rise by approximately 6.6% for all West Hartford homeowners, I don’t believe cutting the budget is the way to go. West Hartford draws and retains residents because of the perception of excellent services and the public school system it offers. Every weekend I see evidence of this when people from Bloomfield, New Britain, Newington, etc. flood open houses. The reason they are looking to move? “I want my kids to go to the West Hartford schools.”

If the WHTA is successful in collecting the necessary signatures, their recommendation will be to cap the budget at increases of no more than 2.5% each year. Since inflation is typically 2.5-3%, essentially they are suggesting that the town remain at status quo and just grow with inflation. However, the West Hartford school system cannot afford to shift to status quo. Since 1996, the WH public schools have seen total enrollment increase by 16.3%. Additionally, the district faces the challenge of 18% of students with English as a second language and 12% of the students qualifying for special education programs. The result of capping the budget increase would be to reduce the spending on the bulk of the students to provide necessary special services. If West Hartford wishes to maintain its reputation regarding public schools, then it needs to continue investing in the education of its youngsters. That will not be achieved by arbitrarily capping the budget.