NAUGATUCK — If the borough’s budget fails at referendum, officials should look at options to save money at Hop Brook Golf Course, according to one of the main organizers of a petition for a public vote on the budget.
Matt Katra, a former Board of Finance member who wants voters to have a say on municipal and school spending, said the nine-hole public golf course continuously loses money and should be examined closely.
“The course has lost over $575,000 since 2008 and is projected to add on to that number in the current fiscal year by $100,000 or more,” he said. “HBGC needs to become revenue neutral. … If it cannot support itself by its fees and memberships, a discussion would need to be had to see if taxpayers should continue to subsidize its operations. We have much more important items in the Borough that can use that funding.”
Discussion of the golf course was the first area Katra mentioned when asked where he would recommend making cuts. Katra, one of the most vocal critics of local government spending and Mayor Robert Mezzo’s policies, also believes education spending can be cut and that all departments need to be looked at for savings.
The adopted budget for 2014-15 is $115.2 million, which is an increase $4.3 million, or 3.91 percent. The mill rate would go up 0.26 mills to 45.06 mills under the spending plan.
According to the borough charter, the budget does not automatically go to referendum unless someone petitions for a public vote. Katra, a Republican, was one of the leaders of a petition drive for a referendum this year and said he received support from Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters when collecting signatures.
Naugatuck officials have certified that enough people signed a petition to force a referendum and will meet Tuesday to set a referendum date.
Katra said many people who signed the petition believe their taxes are too high.
“Having the third-highest mill rate in the state is chasing away existing businesses and preventing new businesses from locating here,” he said.
Katra also suggested the borough look at bulk purchasing of supplies and materials for all departments and eliminating a new customer service center at Town Hall.
He believes too much money in the school budget is going to increasing union contracts and not to help students.
Finally, he said, there is a roughly $500,000 increase in the Department of Public Works despite the privatization of trash collection, which he said Mezzo claimed would save $100,000.
Board of Finance Chairwoman Diane Scinto said the DPW savings will be realized in the future, but that there are one-time expenses, including an early retirement incentive plan, in next year’s budget.
She also said the board will look at Hop Brook Golf Course in the future and see what can be done to achieve savings. However, she said, she believes it is unlikely that anyone on the board would vote to close it.
If the budget fails, she said, cuts will be severe across all departments.
“To me, if this referendum goes through, it means the people have spoken and that they want us to make significant cuts,” she said. “The only place to make cuts will be in services to the community.”
She said the board will not lay off any firemen, police officers or DPW employees, which will be down between seven and nine employees next year.
She also noted that the board has made several cuts already for the 2014-15 fiscal year budget.
She and Mezzo say further cuts would be harmful to the borough.
These are the cuts made so far, Mezzo said:
- 27 teachers accepted an early retirement incentive package; the total reduction in force for educators is 14.5 positions, and another 5.5 support positions are not being filled.
- In addition to three vacant positions at public works, eight employees took an early retirement incentive program; two of those positions will not be filled as trash collection was privatized. The borough has the option not to fill the six remaining positions during the 2014-15 fiscal year so that it can absorb the retirement payouts.
- The Naugatuck Visiting Nurses Association and Youth and Family are transitioning to other providers, steps that will reduce costs moving forward.
- Two fire department positions that were budgeted will be left vacant after retirements.
- No new positions will be filled in the police department.
- Senior bus services will be consolidated.
“I cannot speak for others that supported the aforementioned cuts, but personally I did so with reservations,” Mezzo wrote on his blog. “We are all aware that times are hard and that taxpayers have been stretched to their limits in many cases, but thinking that such cuts will not affect the quality of life in our community is naive.”