Borough officials adopt budget

Petitions started to force referendum

NAUGATUCK — After some final adjustments, the Joint Boards of Finance and Mayor and Burgesses last week adopted a $119.98 million budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year.

The voters will likely have the final say on the spending plan as a petition process, which is strongly supported by Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess, is under way to force a referendum.

The budget increases spending by about $4.71 million, or 4 percent, over the current budget.

The school budget is flat at $61.68 million, while the plan increases municipal spending about $4.71 million, or 8.8 percent, to $58.29 million.

The budget increases the mill rate 4.17 mills from 45.57 to 49.74. One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 of assessed value. Under a 49.74 mill rate, a home assessed at $150,000 will pay $7,461 in taxes, an increase of $625.

The budget adopted at the May 5 meeting increased spending by $33,000 from the proposal presented at a public hearing May 2.

The borough’s insurance premium for the wastewater treatment plant increased $71,000 due to an approximate $3 million claim filed by Veolia North America, the private company that operates the plant.

According to an email from Public Works Director James Stewart, which was distributed at the meeting, the incinerator at the plant suffered a “catastrophic failure” in February and had to be taken offline.

The joint boards also decided to give the Howard Whittemore Library an additional $9,217 following an outcry by residents at the public hearing for more funds for the library. The increase is the first the library has had in three years and brought the money the library receives from the borough to $591,217.

The increases were partially offset by some minor cuts throughout the budget, including $24,000 from the cost of repairs to the roof at the borough’s Eastside fire station.

One of the driving factors behind the increase is an additional $2.03 million in debt services, which will go towards bond payments for the $81 million Naugatuck High School renovation project and future upgrades at the wastewater treatment plant.

The borough is also dealing with a projected loss of $3 million in revenue from Veolia.

Veolia shut down the incinerator recently over concerns that it was no longer in compliance with mandated regulations designed to mitigate pollutants issued by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The shutdown means that Veolia isn’t paying rent to the borough since it is not operating the plant. The 2016-17 budget includes no rent from Veolia.

Hess said in an interview after the meeting the borough is working with Veolia and the government to correct the problem and hopes to have the incinerator up and running again shortly. However, he removed the $3 million from the budget as a “worst-case scenario.”

This budget also assumes the government will force the borough to make the upgrades at the wastewater treatment plant, Hess said.

Hess believes the issues could be resolved within 60 days, but the budget needed to be finalized before that point. Therefore, Hess has encouraged residents to begin the referendum process and vote against the budget.

“I think the most prudent approach is to gain enough time to resolve the three sets of issues so we would know exactly what we would be spending for bonding and we could include rent back into the budget. That would enable us to reduce the mill rate,” Hess said.

The process of getting signatures has already started. Residents have to submit 1,378 valid signatures by May 19 to force the vote.

After the signatures are turned in, borough officials have to count and verify the signatures. Borough Clerk Nancy DiMeo said that process could take up to a few weeks.

Once the signatures have been verified the Board of Mayor and Burgesses has five days in which to meet and set a date for the referendum. The referendum can’t be set for less than 22 days or more than 28 days from that meeting.

At least 15 percent of registered voters need to vote in the referendum for the results to count.

If a referendum isn’t successful in rejecting the budget, Hess said, the budget would remain as it is now with a 4.17 mill increase and the borough won’t be able to adjust it until next year.

“What would happen is the mill rate would be higher this year, but we would be in a position to reduce it next year. But I am positive the taxpayers want me to reduce it this year. And I am doing everything in my power to reduce it this year,” Hess said.