Council sends budget to a vote

PROSPECT — The Town Council Tuesday night approved a proposed $8.27 million municipal budget that will now go to a vote at a town meeting.

The 2016-17 spending plan is an increase of $473,895, or 6.07 percent, over the current budget. Voters will have their say on the plan at town meeting April 28 at 7 p.m. at Community School, 12 Center St.

“The state of the town is very, very good. Our fund balance has grown over the last seven years,” Mayor Robert Chatfield said. “The town is run very well. Everything is working and moving along just the way it should be.”

Public safety is the main driver of the increase. The fire department budget is set to increase $42,560, mostly due to the purchase of the self-contained breathing apparatus air packs the firefighters wear when on a call. Each apparatus costs $8,000.

“Now all of our packs are compatible with all of the packs in the area and they have the rescue hose on the side,” Chatfield said.

The police department budget is increasing $65,615. The increase is due to a roughly $18,000 increase for the town’s share of the resident state trooper program.

The cost of the program, which is currently $162,757, has increased more than $50,000 in the past three years due to the state shifting the burden of the cost to the town. Chatfield said this number may still increase due to budget cuts at the state level.

“We still don’t know what the full cost of a resident trooper is going to be. We are investigating other possibilities,” Chatfield said.

The council approved the budget following a public hearing attended by about 15 residents and town officials.

Former Town Council member Theresa Graveline spoke on the police budget. She pointed out that the town has currently expended $507,131 of the budgeted $540,904 for police officer salaries. She questioned why the line item for the salaries was so low and suggested the town adjust the number in the proposed budget.

Chatfield said the line item takes into account the overtime officers work. This overtime, which is typically directing traffic during road work, is paid for by the companies that are doing the work.

Although the salary line item looks high, it is offset by the revenue coming in, Chatfield said.

Region 16 Board of Education member and Prospect resident Robert Hiscox raised concerns about the budget for land acquisition and open space, which the council did not fund in the proposed budget.

“I believe we should be saving money on a regular basis for when opportunities come up for open space,” Hiscox said. “I just don’t want to see those accounts disappear. I believe we should be putting something aside every year, even if it’s just a small amount.”

During its regular meeting, immediately following the public hearing, the council restored $7,500 to the land acquisition account.

The council also added a part-time program assistant position to the recreation department for $15,000.

The cost of maintaining and operating the Community School building, which voters approved purchasing earlier this year, also factors into the proposed budget.

The budget sets aside $137,346 for the school, including $25,000 for electricity, $21,480 for heat and $23,078 for maintenance. In addition the town will have to make its first payment of $75,000 to Region 16, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, for the school.

The increases in the budget are offset by an $115,000 decrease in the town employee benefits line item and an increase in the grand list which will bring in an additional $343,000 in revenue under the current mill rate.

The municipal budget doesn’t include education costs for Region 16. The school budget proposal is flat at $40.53 million, but town’s net education cost will be increasing. The impact to the town wasn’t finalized Tuesday as officials deal with revenue cuts from the state.

“They’re not through making cuts,” Chatfield said. “It’s changing every day.”