Finance board turns efforts to paring requests

BEACON FALLS — Officials have their work cut out for them when it comes to crafting a municipal budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

Department heads came before the Board of Finance last week to explain and justify their budget requests.

The total of all the requests is about $7.91 million, which would increase the town’s budget by $1.19 million, or 17.7 percent, from this year’s budget. The finance board will now work to pare the requests.

Board of Finance Chairman Joe Rodorigo said the board requested department heads present their budget proposals in three categories: items they must have, should have and could have.

“The things that are must have we take a much harder look at,” Rodorigo said.

One of the largest requested budget increases comes from the police department. The request would increase the department’s budget by $113,934 to $763,842.

In the budget proposal, Lt. Eddie Rodriguez requested an additional $46,500 for two part-time officer positions to ensure the department has around-the-clock police coverage.

Currently, the department has three full-time officers and seven part-time officers, Rodriguez said. There are times during the week when the town is reliant on a state trooper covering a part of Route 8 to provide coverage for the town.

Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposed state budget would make towns that use the resident state trooper program cover the full cost of the program. The department’s budget request anticipates paying the full $204,000 for the program, which is an increase of $39,300.

Beacon Hose Company No. 1 is seeking an increase of $57,400 in its budget, including a $20,000 stipend for the chief position.

Fire Chief Jim Trzaski, who will be stepping down as chief at the end of April, said the money is for the amount of time the chief puts in on a weekly basis.

“The fire chief, even though he is a volunteer, is a department head in this community. There is no doubt that this department head puts in 35 hours, sometimes 40 hours, a week uncompensated. He’s doing not only Beacon Hose business but town business. You ask us to go out and get quotes, you ask us to go out and get grants. It costs us time to do that,” Trzaski told the board.

Beacon Hose is also requesting $10,000 to pay firefighters who respond to calls.

Trzaski said firefighters would be paid somewhere between $4 and $6 per call, depending on their rank. The money would reward firefighters and hopefully help retain them, he said.

The department is also seeing funds for a number of capital items, including $105,000 for 35 portable radios to replace the department’s aging radios.

The board questioned a request by registrars of voters Helen Mis and Katherine Grace to more than double the salary for the positions, which are elected.

The two positions split $25,000 now. The request asks for a $52,000 salary, an increase of $26,500, to be divided between the two positions.

Mis and Grace said the increase is because of how much more time they put in during election years, especially the presidential elections.

Board of Finance member Jim Huk asked what the town could expect for twice the salary.

“I, as a representative of the Board of Finance, have to say if we are going to give out more what more am I getting. If you are saying you are doing more and giving it to us gratis, that’s one thing. If you are saying you get slammed every four years because of a presidential election, I think that is a separate issue,” Huk said.

The board will meet again on April 18 to begin discussions on how to move forward with the budget.

Rodorigo said the town already has a number of financial issues facing it aside from the municipal budget.

The most recent revaluation caused the grand list to drop by 5.12 percent. Rodorigo said the town has to add 1.9 mills to the mill rate in order to make up for the loss in the grand list.

Residents whose property assessments went down due to the revaluation will not notice much, if any increase, Rodorigo said. However, residents with properties that retained their value will see a significant increase in their taxes.

The town is also facing cuts in state funding. Rodorigo said a very rough estimate of those cuts would add 1 mill to the town’s mill rate.

In addition, Region 16, which oversees schools in Prospect and Beacon Falls, has proposed a $41.2 million school budget. Rodorigo estimated the town’s school expenses would be another 0.5 mills, Rodorigo said.

“Before the town touches the budget we are looking at a 3.4 mill increase,” Rodorigo said.

Rodorigo said the board plans to not fund a number of the requests from department heads.

“At the end of the day some of the department heads will be disappointed,” Rodorigo said. “However, I am not under the delusion that people will approve a 4 mill increase.”