The Bethel Board of Finance met on Thursday, May 14 and in a vote along party lines, voted to implement the budget sent to public hearing by te same party line vote, with all four Democrats voting in favor, and both Republican's voting against. Independent Cynthia McCorkindale abstained as she has filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice alleging that the Board of Selectmen did not have authority to empower the Board of Finance to bypass the Town Meeting and Referendum as the Governor's executive order is an unconstitutional violation of individual citizen's civil rights to vote.
A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice would not confirm a specific open investigation but did refer to the April 27 memorandum from U.S. Attorney General Barr instructing the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute civil rights violations by municipalities and states due to the Covid crisis.
The Board of Finance increased the 2021 budget by 2.27%, or $1.7 million over the 2020 budget, end is expected to result in a .99% increase in the tax "mill rate" used for property taxes.
"This is a compromise budget," said board member Dalene Foster, who was among the four board members who approved the budget. "Not everyone got what they wanted or needed."
Board member Cynthia McCorkindale said "By stripping us of our right to vote on our annual budget, Governor Lamont has created more strain in an already factious political atmosphere in Bethel."
Board member Bryan Terzian said "I think it's irresponsible to raise taxes right now."
Bethel is one of a very small minority of communities to adopt an increased budget for next year, with many localities stating that they did not feel it appropriate to raise taxes when voters were barred from participating in the process, and the financial burden on the unemployment level that is reaching levels not seen since the Great Depression. Bethel's unemployment level as of late April was over 19%.
A court challenge is expected to the validity of the Bethel budget adopted by the Board of Finance.