Borough boards approve budget

Deputy Mayor Tamath Rossi, center, discusses the budget while Burgess Rocky Vitale, left, and Finance Board alternate member Wayne McAllister listen during the Joint Boards of Finance and Mayor and Burgesses meeting Tuesday. The boards adopted a $113.6 million budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year. –LUKE MARSHALL

Deputy Mayor Tamath Rossi, center, discusses the budget while Burgess Rocky Vitale, left, and Finance Board alternate member Wayne McAllister listen during the Joint Boards of Finance and Mayor and Burgesses meeting Tuesday. The boards adopted a $113.6 million budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — The Joint Boards of Finance and Mayor and Burgesses adopted a $113.6 million budget for 2014-15 Tuesday night.

The budget is an increase of about $2.89 million over the 2013-14 budget.

The municipal budget is $52.5 million, an increase of $1.26 million. The Board of Education budget is $61.1 million, an increase of $1.62 million.

The budget cuts $1.23 million and $204,206 from the original municipal and school budgets respectively adopted in May. The original budgets were rejected at a referendum in late July.

Although spending will increase under the plan, the mill rate will go down slightly as revenues will offset the increase.

Under the budget the mill rate is 44.67 mills or 0.13 mills less than the 2013-14 rate. A resident whose home is worth $150,000 will pay $20 less in property taxes under the new mill rate.

The boards made a few cuts to the municipal budget Tuesday night, removing $211,101 by the end of the evening.

The cuts included $197,000 for road repairs under the reserve fund. Since this cost would have been offset using money from the fund balance it has no direct affect on the mill rate.

Although no changes were made to the school budget Tuesday, it was the largest point of contention at the meeting.

Board of Finance member Dan Sheridan proposed reducing the school budget since the loss of students over the years does not correlate with the spending increase.

“We continue to increase spending at the Board of Education and what are we getting for it? A district that is an alliance district and in the bottom 30 districts in the state. … We need to see concrete measurable results and increases in performance if the Board of Education expects higher levels of funding,” Sheridan said.

Sheridan recommended eliminating some or all of the non-teaching positions that are not mandated by law, including social workers in the district.

There is a ratio of one social worker for every 300 students, according to Board of Education Chairman David Heller.

“I don’t understand why people would even suggest cutting social workers,” he said. “That social worker is often the only adult other than the teacher who talks to the students about issues they may be having at home and in school.”

Other members of the joint boards disagreed with cutting the increase in the school budget, contending a decrease would negatively affect the student population, and simply telling the Board of Education to reduce its budget would hurt the collaboration between the borough and the board.

Board of Finance Chairwoman Diane Scinto said the increase was due to costs out of the control of school officials.

“But for the health insurance costs the Board of Education’s budget would have been $400,000 less than last year,” Scinto said.

Mayor Robert Mezzo said the joint boards worked hard to present a budget that was fiscally responsible.

“I think we made an honest attempt to reduce the costs and lower the mill rate below last year’s level while there were very few options on the table that were responsible to make. The budget we presented originally was deliberated over five months. We proposed cuts in response to the referendum that overwhelmingly voted that budget down,” Mezzo said. “Quite frankly there weren’t a lot of cuts to make at this point that I felt, personally, are responsible or will not have consequences for future taxpayers.”

The budgets could be forced to another referendum if residents petition to do so. About 1,350 signatures would need to be collected and handed into the borough by Aug. 26.

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