Group hands in petitions for referendum

NAUGATUCK — Petitions to force the 2014-15 borough budget to a referendum were submitted June 12.

Matthew Katra, a volunteer and former Board of Finance member who helped with the effort, said petitions with more than 2,000 signatures were handed in to the borough clerk’s office to force the vote on the municipal and school budgets.

Katra said the referendum is needed because the budget increase is too high.

“The adopted Naugatuck budget will increase spending at a time when Naugatuck residents have said that they cannot support another tax increase. The new mill rate of 45.06 mills will put additional strains on families and senior citizens, who live paycheck to paycheck,” Katra said.

The Joint Boards of Finance and Mayor and Burgesses approved a $115.2 million budget for the upcoming fiscal year May 29. The budget represents an increase in spending of $4.33 million, or 3.91 percent, over the current budget.

The municipal budget is $53.9 million, an increase of $2.5 million or 4.87 percent. The school budget is $61.3 million, an increase of $1.8 million or 3.07 percent. The largest increase in both budgets is health care costs, which increased nearly $1 million on the municipal side and $2.27 million on the school side.

The budget will increase the mill rate 0.26 mills to 45.06 mills.

Board of Education Chairman David Heller said the school board worked hard to keep the budget as low as it could.

“We feel that our budget is both as tight as possible and as small as possible. We worked very hard to keep it as low as we can,” Heller said.

For the budgets to be sent to referendum, separate petitions had to be turned in for both with at least 1,346 signatures, or 8 percent of the registered voters.

Now that the petitions have been submitted Borough Clerk Nancy DiMeo will have to verify the names and addresses of each person up to the required 1,346 signatures. DiMeo said the process took over two weeks last year, when petitions successfully forced a referendum on the current budget.

Once and if the signatures are verified the Board of Mayor and Burgesses will have five days to meet and set the date for the referendum, DiMeo said.

On the day of the referendum 15 percent, or approximately 2,500, of registered voters need to vote for the referendum to count.

Last year, even though the majority voted against the budgets, only 14 percent of voters cast their vote and the referendum was considered null.

Heller encouraged residents to vote in favor of the budget.

“I would hope that, if the petition does have enough signatures for a vote, the community will come out to support the education budget in the referendum,” Heller said.

Mayor Robert Mezzo recently took to his blog, www.bobmezzo.com, to discuss the budget and the increase in the mill rate. Mezzo said that “many taxpayers will notice little substantial change or even a net decrease in their overall tax bill.”

Mezzo said the increase for a home worth $159,800, which is the median home price for Naugatuck according to Zillow.com, will be $29.08 under the 2014-15 budget.

Katra voiced concerns the mill rate will drive future businesses away from the borough.

“This petition is a call to the Mayor, the Board of Burgesses, and the Finance Board to make the right decisions and lower the mill rate by making necessary and responsible cuts and eliminate new spending,” Katra said.

Board of Finance Chairwoman Diane Scinto said that sending the budget to a referendum is the right of the citizens. However, she said, she would have liked to seen the petition organizers attend a budget workshop and offer suggestions rather than just start the petition.

“Maybe they could have offered some suggestions so we wouldn’t be here,” Scinto said.

In his blog, Mezzo also raised concerns about those who were organizing the petition, saying the motives behind it were political rather than altruistic.

“Unfortunately, the budget petition referendum drive this year has a strong dose of politics at its core,” Mezzo said.

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