Revised budget heads to hearing

Board of Finance members Dan Sheridan, left, and Andrew Bottinick look over the budget during Thursday’s Joint Boards of Finance and Mayor and Burgess meeting. The joint boards approved a $113.8 million budget for 2014-15, which will go to a public hearing on Monday. –LUKE MARSHALL

Board of Finance members Dan Sheridan, left, and Andrew Bottinick look over the budget during Thursday’s Joint Boards of Finance and Mayor and Burgess meeting. The joint boards approved a $113.8 million budget for 2014-15, which will go to a public hearing on Monday. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — Two days after voters rejected the municipal and school budgets at a referendum, borough officials cut $1.42 million from the total proposed spending increase.

The Joint Boards of Finance and Mayor and Burgesses approved a $113.8 million 2014-15 budget Thursday night. The new proposal is an increase of $2.91 million or 2.62 percent over the 2013-14 budget.

The proposed municipal budget is $52.7 million, an increase of $1.28 million or 2.51 percent. The proposed Board of Education budget is $61.1 million, an increase of $1.62 million or 2.73 percent.

The boards cut $1.21 million in spending from the municipal budget and $204,206 from the school budget adopted in May.

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

Under the proposed budget the mill rate would be 44.68 mills or 0.12 mills less than the 2013-14 rate. A resident whose home is worth $150,000 would pay $18 less in property taxes under the proposed mill rate.

The bulk of the spending cut came from deferring $1.05 million in expenses.

The boards deferred $800,000 for a mandatory sewage study for the wastewater treatment plant. The funds are designated to pay for a sewer study and facilities report on the wastewater treatment plant to meet new state regulations on phosphorus and nitrogen. The money for the study will likely be included in a bond package that will go to a vote in November.

The other $250,000 was to repay money used to establish a reserve escrow fund for the borough’s move to self insurance this year.

Controller Robert Butler explained to set up the high deductable program the borough had to the reserve escrow fund in the event of a major claim. Officials took $250,000 out of the medical reserve to do that, he said.

The $250,000 would have gone towards paying back the medical reserve account. Butler said it will now take an extra year to pay back the account completely.

The boards also cut $25,000 in police payroll due to a retirement, $11,980 for parts for police radar and bicycles, and $20,000 from the Department of Public Works due to a retirement.

Officials also debated removing $62,000 from the police budget for an information technology consultant.

Board of Finance member Andrew Bottinick said the department does not have a person who can fix the computers other than the consultant. If the computers crashed, he said, it would be difficult for the department to get them back up and running.

“The bottom line is, if we take that money out of there, there is no contingency,” Bottinick said. “So, it’s really criminal to take that money out of there.”

The joint boards ultimately voted to remove $12,000 from that account, leaving $50,000.

Out of the $204,206 spending cut for the school budget, $60,000 will come from teacher salaries because salaries for new teachers are lower than expected, according to Butler, who is also the business manager for the school board.

The school board also will save $40,000 by not putting money aside to pay for the future replacement of the new artificial turf field. The field, which was installed last year, is expected to last 12 years before needing to be replaced.

Board of Finance member Dan Sheridan said the $204,206 cut was not enough. He argued that the school budget should be flat since student enrollment has declined.

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.

Health care costs increased $2.27 million on the school side.

Superintendent of Schools Sharon Locke said flat funding the budget would have a negative impact on the district.

“This is what we need to be doing in education; look at what we’re doing well and the areas we’re not doing well, and then allocating our resources to address the gaps to ensure that every kid here gets a high-quality education,” Locke said. “Flat-funding education would decimate the possibility for quality education here.”

Sheridan changed his mind after listening to Locke, and made a motion to cut $600,000 in school spending instead. This motion failed.

A public hearing on the budget is Monday at 6:30 p.m. at City Hill Middle School, 441 City Hill St. The boards will meet Aug. 12 to adopt a budget.

After the budget is adopted, residents will once again be able to force the budget to a referendum through petitions.

Former Board of Finance member Matthew Katra, who spearheaded the first petition effort to force a referendum, called the cuts made on Thursday “a good start.” He said he’ll wait until the public hearing to decide whether to try and force a second referendum.

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