Becky Gallagher educational meeting

Becky Gallagher, chairwoman of Bloomfield’s ad-hoc Finance Education Committee, explains the village’s financial troubles at a public meeting before a November referendum for a tax increase that was defeated. (File photo/Regional News)

BLOOMFIELD — Bloomfield residents are urging the village board to cut back on expenses to save the village from financial turmoil, but they are torn on where the cuts should begin.

The village, which is struggling with a debt load of about $6 million, found itself facing a financial crunch last year after voters by a 2-to-1 margin rejected a tax increase referendum to cover a $600,000 shortfall.

Prior to the referendum, Bloomfield’s ad-hoc Finance Education Committee sent out a public survey to residents asking for their opinions on the village’s financial issues.

The just-released survey results reflect one resounding sentiment: Cut spending rather than raise revenues.

“Live within your means,” one respondent wrote. “Take care of what we have, and quit buying.”

Out of 2,443 surveys mailed to village residents, 559 were completed and returned, or about 23 percent.

Since the village was seeking ways to lower expenses, the survey asked voters which public services they prioritized and which services could be reduced.

According to survey results released by the village, the two most closely-examined services were police protection and road maintenance in wintertime.

Results were split down the middle about the police: Fifty-one percent of respondents said they were “willing to live with a part-time police department,” and 49 percent said they were not. The village currently shares a full-time police department with the town of Bloomfield.

Similarly, 56 percent of respondents said they could live with increased police response times if it led to balancing the village’s $3.8 million budget.

“Our taxes are high enough,” one respondent wrote.

While most respondents said snow control on the roads is “extremely” or “somewhat” important to them, 74 percent said the current level of services is adequate. As a result, 81 percent of respondents said they wanted the village to maintain the current road plowing/salting standards and keep expenses minimal.

“Y’all do an exceptional job plowing/salting, roads are more than adequate,” one comment stated. “Less services are alright. Y’all do too much.”

The survey also asked voters about a handful of options for raising village revenue, including increases to taxes and permits.

Tax increases faced overwhelming opposition: Only 12 percent of respondents supported the addition of a new wheel tax, and only 13 percent supported permanently increasing existing taxes.

“We can’t afford to be taxed anymore,” a respondent wrote.

Increasing the cost of building permits was the most popular idea listed, earning support from 35 percent of respondents.

None of the increased revenue ideas earned a majority of support.

Village officials trimmed about $400,000 from the village’s 2019 budget, although no long-term solution has been identified to the heavy debt load.

Whether the survey results will affect future decisions remains unseen.

Village President Gary Grolle called the survey an “unprecedented opportunity” for community feedback, but he said the results did not provide a clear indication of where to increase income.

“Unfortunately, the survey results clearly showed public rejection of virtually any type of additional revenue proposed,” he said.

Grolle said the results had little influence on the village’s 2019 budget, primarily because the results were tabulated too late in the year.

Trustee Susan Bernstein agreed, adding that the survey took too long to complete.

“The basic structure was productive and intent was answered,” Bernstein said. “But the simple answer was, ‘We spent more than we took in.’ We knew that from the onset.”

In trimming about $400,000 from their budget this year, village board members said expenses were cut due to restructuring of some village staff positions and to a new five-year garbage pickup and recycling contract for both the village and town.

From here, Grolle hopes the savings will compound.

In a letter he read at a Jan. 14 village board meeting, Grolle said he has proposed tighter controls on village spending, which the board is expected review at a Jan. 28 meeting.

“If these tighter controls are approved by the board, I hope they will help minimize or eliminate the, ‘It’s in my budget, so I can spend as I wish’ philosophy,” he said.

Grolle is not running for re-election in April.