NAUGATUCK — The fate of the borough budget rests in the voters’ hands.
The approved budget is $115.2 million. The budget represents an increase in spending of $4.33 million, or 3.91 percent.
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 mill rate will increase 0.26 mills to 45.06 mills.
The municipal and school budgets will be asked as separate questions. Residents will able to vote yes, no — too high, or no — too low.
The referendum was forced by a petition effort.
“Like every year the citizens and taxpayers of Naugatuck should have a say in their local government. This is their say,” said former Board of Finance member Matthew Katra, who helped lead the petition effort.
Katra said he chose to help force the referendum because he’s not pleased with spending in the borough.
Katra pointed to the Hop Brook Golf Course and pensions as areas he feels the borough could make cuts.
Board of Finance Chairwoman Diane Scinto said the largest increase in the budget comes in items the borough has little or no control over.
“One of the things people should know is there is an increase of $4.3 million, however, of that increase $4.5 million is due to increases health insurance and the water pollution testing we are mandated to do. If you remove that it is $200,000 less than last year,” Scinto said.
Naugatuck Mayor Robert Mezzo echoed Scinto’s comments, pointing out the borough has made many cuts to the budget.
“Members of the Joint Boards of Finance and Mayor and Burgesses worked extremely hard this year to draft a lean budget which resulted in a very small 0.26 mill increase. Several difficult and painful cuts were made; and most of the spending increases were the result of increased health care costs, unfunded mandates and capital projects offset by surplus revenues,” Mezzo said.
Mezzo voiced concerns that those who had spoken out against the budget have not offered any ideas on how to lower it.
“To this date, almost all of those leading the referendum drive have offered little to no specifics as to what could and should actually be cut from the budget,” Mezzo said.
Mezzo encouraged anyone who had questions on the budget to contact him.
“Any resident seeking honest and straight-forward answers about the budget is free to contact me directly by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on my cell at (203) 217-0876,” Mezzo said.
Board of Education Chairman David Heller said the school board crafted a reasonable budget to present to the residents.
“I believe that the Board of Education budget is reasonable and substantially less than last year’s budget except for the employee health care cost increases and the contractual increases owed to our employees. I fully support the education budget as proposed and urge everyone to vote in support of the education budget and to support our students and staff,” Heller said.
In order for the referendum results to be considered valid at least 15 percent of registered voters need to turn out to vote.
According to Borough Clerk Nancy DiMeo as of May 30 there were 16,825 registered voters in Naugatuck, which means at least 2,524 voters would have to turn out. DiMeo does not expect those numbers to change much before the referendum.
Katra said he does not agree with needing 15 percent of the voters to turn out in order to make the referendum count. He pointed out that this rule is not in effect during other times voters go to the polls.
“We don’t have minimum turnout when they vote for mayor. If only 14 percent turned out for mayor would that election be nullified? No, it wouldn’t. Why should there be a minimum turnout on budget,” Katra said.
Katra encouraged every resident to turn out to the polls to cast their vote.
“Voting is a fundamental right in the United States. Everybody should be voting,” Katra said.
If the budget is voted down the joint boards will meet July 31 to make changes to the budgets. A public hearing will be Aug. 4 and the budget would be adopted Aug. 12.
At that point citizens could force the budget to a second referendum through another petition.
Although she believes it is a good budget, Scinto encouraged people to look it over and make up their own minds.
“You should go vote as you see fit,” Scinto said.