First selectman proposes 6.8 percent increase in budget
By a vote of 2-1, the Board of Selectmen backed First Selectman Gerard Smith’s proposed 2013-14 town budget during its March 11 meeting.
Smith said that due to computer problems and an illness to Financial Director Manny Gomez and exact dollar amount for his proposed budget could not be presented.
He said his proposal is an increase of 6.8 percent over the current budget of roughly $6 million. A 6.8 percent increase over the current budget brings the proposed budget to approximately $6.4 million.
The proposal was referred to the Board of Finance for review.
Jim Huk, chairman of the Finance Board, said last week that it was too early to begin any speculations on the budget. However, he encouraged residents to come to the Board of Finance’s next meeting at 7 p.m. March 27 in Town Hall at which the board will discuss the upcoming budget.
During the Board of Selectmen’s meeting Smith said there weren’t a lot of big increases in any of the town departments. The largest increase in the proposal, roughly $900,000, comes under the capitol projects budget.
More than half of the increase is a new fire truck.
“Engine one needs to be replaced and it’s $585,000,” Smith said. “It’s 25 years, so it needs to be done. It’s a matter of how we do it.”
Selectman Christopher Bielik felt the town might be best served by bonding the fire engine.
“With that type of useful life on it, it would make sense to throw it into a bond package,” Bielik said. “The thing we don’t like is dead money, paying bonds on equipment that’s already gone. This does not fall into that category.”
Smith said he left it under capital projects to have a discussion on how to move forward. If truck is removed from the budget and bonded, Smith said, the budget is likely to have no increase.
The fire truck remained in the proposal that was sent to the finance board.
The proposed capital projects budget also includes scanning and digitalization of all Town Hall documents, the refurbishment of town trucks, purchasing of a new plow truck and the new library study.
The item that drew the most contention among the board in the proposed budget is a recommended salary increase for the first selectman position.
Currently the position is part-time and pays an annual salary of $34,200 with no benefits.
Smith’s proposal will remove the part-time description of the job, increase the salary for the first selectman to $68,400 and give the position benefits.
The new raise would not take place until after the election in November. Smith’s 2013-14 budget proposal includes $54,207, which represents a pro-rated amount, starting in December and continuing seven months until the following year’s budget.
Smith said the proposed salary is more in line with what neighboring towns offer and closer to what the job entails.
Bielik said he had an issue with raising the first selectman’s salary that much.
“I think that we’re aiming a little high for the first selectman’s salary,” Bielik said “$68,400 plus benefits is an awful big bite and I think it’s an awful lot to ask people in this town to support when other towns are pretty austere.”
Bielik said about $45,000 is the highest salary he could support for the position.
The first selectman’s salary was not the only elected official’s salary Smith proposed changes to in his budget.
The proposal includes a 4.5 percent wage increase for all of the elected officials except the first selectman, Smith said. This increase is the same as the union employees were given under their contracts.
“As the employees get raises I think the elected officials should get a raise, whatever that raise is,” Smith said.
Among the other changes in the proposal is $10,000 to help the Economic Development Commission promote Beacon Falls.
“They’ve actually been stepping up and they’ve got their EDC newsletter, they’ve got some events they want to host, but they don’t have any money to do anything,” Smith said.
Not everything was an increase, however.
The waste water treatment plant’s budget decreased $10,000 because of the energy saving efforts the town had put in place there, Smith said.
The Parks and Recreation budget is down 7.5 percent in the proposal, Smith said.
The town also anticipates refinancing its debt service, which is expected to decrease interest rates from approximately 5 percent to approximately 2 percent, Smith said.
This will have an affect on the town’s two sewer bonds, water project and capitol projects debt.
“All those numbers are going to be drastically reduced,” Smith said.
The 6.8 percent proposed increase would go down when the town refinances its debts, Smith said.
Since the refinancing was not yet complete, the board moved forward using the numbers as they were presented. Smith and Selectman David D’Amico voted in favor of the budget. Bielik voted against it due to his concerns over the increase to the first selectman’s salary.