Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Budget Time Brings A Return of Cheshire's Punch And Judy Show

If you're looking for the modern day,  municipal government equivalent of the "Punch and Judy" puppet shows that originated in England in the late 1800s, look no further than the annual spectacle that is the town of Cheshire's budget making process.

But instead of a male puppet fighting with his wife, Cheshire's Town Council has Republican David Schrumm sparring with Democrat Michael Ecke. Schrumm (shown at left in campaign photo from last year) is the current council budget chairman and has been ever since the Republicans retook control of the governing body in 2009.

When the Democrats were in control before that, Ecke chaired the budget committee and set the agenda, the way Schrumm does now. But now with Republicans holding a virtually bullet-proof 6-3 majority, Ecke's clout on the council has been reduced to taking his case to the public via the media.

After not making any comments during the council's first public hearing on the proposed budget Tuesday night, Ecke made a beeline to reporters covering the meeting.

"This budget was announced a month ago and we still don't have any indication of what they're going to do with it," said Ecke (shown in photo below). "When I was budget chairman, we always held two hearings."

Ecke, of course, knows full well that the Republican majority will look to cut the $99.76 million budget that Town Manager Michael Milone has proposed for fiscal 2013. The question, as even Milone himself admitted during the presentation, is how large the cuts will be.

Milone's proposal would be a 2.09 percent, $2.04 million increase over the budget that was adopted for the current fiscal year. And while some residents at Tuesday's hearing called for a zero percent increase over the current budget, even Schrumm admitted that might not be possible.

But that's not to say he won't try. Where some politicians don't enjoy playing the bad guy at budget time, Schrumm seems to revel in it.

In the span of a few minutes following Tuesday's budget hearing, Schrumm had:

- Called Ecke's comments about the budget process "vapid" and accused his Democratic rival of "carping" rather than offering real solutions for cutting the budget.

- Suggested that rather than adding three new teachers at Doolittle Elementary School to reduce class sizes, as proposed in Superintendent of Schools Greg Florio's budget, that the school system undergo a massive redistricting effort  to shift students to Chapman Elementary School, where enrollments are down.

Some politicians are reluctant to suggest anything controversial as they prepare their community's budget. But not Schrumm, who loves the limelight, sees controversy as a way to attract attention and goes out of his way to provide reporters with a memorable quote.

But budget making is a process that turns on the smallest of details. And without even the slightest of details on what the final budget will look like, it makes it hard for members of the political opposition like Ecke to rally the public around.

And so it goes in Cheshire, with Schrumm playing a political "Punch" doing his best to tweak a Democratic "Judy" in Ecke.

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March 27, 2012 at 11:19 PM 

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