Mill rate set to decrease

Meeting scheduled for May 26 to vote on town budget

Beacon Falls Library Director Sue Dowdell, left, hands out emails from residents supporting the library to members of the Board of Finance May 12 during a public hearing on the budget at Town Hall. The town’s $6.37 million municipal will go to a town meeting for a vote on May 26. –LUKE MARSHALL

Beacon Falls Library Director Sue Dowdell, left, hands out emails from residents supporting the library to members of the Board of Finance May 12 during a public hearing on the budget at Town Hall. The town’s $6.37 million municipal will go to a town meeting for a vote on May 26. –LUKE MARSHALL

BEACON FALLS — Taxpayers in town will see a slight decrease in taxes if voters approve the budget officials presented last week.

The Board of Finance and the Board of Selectmen approved a $6.37 million town budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year following a public hearing May 12. A town meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on May 26 at Town Hall to vote on the budget.

The proposed municipal budget increases spending by $220,721, or 3.61 percent, over the current fiscal year. However, that increase is offset by an additional $288,000 in revenue in the budget.

“It is actually a net negative for the town. Our operating budget actually went down,” Board of Finance Chairman Joe Rodorigo said.

Rodorigo said the additional revenue is $188,000 in town road aid and $100,000 from police overtime, which is paid for by contactors that hire police officers to work at job sites.

The town road aid and the police overtime wasn’t included in the budget previously as expense and revenue, Rodorigo said. He said officials were encouraged to add the items in by the town’s auditors.

“They said ‘we understand what you did, it’s not illegal but it is improper as far as your accounting system goes, so you need to put it back in the budget,’” Rodorigo said.

The town budget doesn’t include education spending for Region 16, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect. The region’s $40.53 million 2016-17 budget was approved at a district meeting early this month. Beacon Falls’ net education cost is roughly $10.83 million, a decrease of $8.

With the town and school budgets combined, the mill rate in Beacon Falls is slated to decrease 0.5 mills to 32.9 mills. One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 of assessed value. Under a 32.9 mill rate, a home assessed at $150,000 will pay $4,935 in taxes, a decrease of $75.

The majority of the increase in the proposed budget comes from raises for officials.

The first selectman position will receive a raise of $5,000 bringing the salary to $48,000. The two selectmen positions will get an increase of $1,715 bringing the salary to $12,000.

The treasurer’s salary will go up $4,500 to $12,000. The tax collector’s salary will be $12,000, an increase of $1,328. The town clerk will receive an increase of $1,113 bringing the salary to $4,800.

The increases were approved during last year’s budget process, prior to the 2015 municipal elections. At the time, Rodorigo said, the town compared the salaries of its officials to those of municipal leaders in towns of similar size to Beacon Falls and found they made significantly less in Beacon Falls.

In 2014-15, the first selectman earned an annual salary of $34,236. Selectmen made $7,426, while the treasurer earned $5,697. The town clerk made $3,687 and the tax collector earned $8,458.

The finance manager will also receive a raise under the proposed budget. The salary is set to go up $14,240 to $82,100.

Rodorigo said the proposed increase would come after Finance Manager Thomas Broesler has been with the town for a year. He was hired in September.

The main topic of discussion during the public hearing was the town-owned property at 35 Wolfe Avenue.

The Beacon Falls Public Library’s Board of Trustees, which wants to use the property to build a new 10,000-square-foot library and community center, originally requested $39,000 in the budget to pay for architectural drawings for the new building.

However, the Board of Finance removed that money, saying it needed clear indication from residents that this is what they wanted before it put that money in the budget.

“What I think is the problem that has hung this up for a long time is that there seems to be different visions of what this library/community center is going to be. We don’t really have a clear consensus on that,” Rodrigo said. “Before we fund $39,000, we need to know that the public wants this project and we don’t know that yet.”

Library Director Sue Dowdell said the library needs to complete the drawings for the proposed library and community center by August in order to be eligible for a $1 million state grant.

“Which means that you need to put money in the budget this coming fiscal year for those drawings to take place,” Dowdell said.

Former First Selectman Susan Cable said she understands money is tight for the town, but that the town would need to put money towards the creation of a library and community center in order to make people interested in it.

“I am not asking for millions of dollars. I am asking you to put something in so that when we go to corporate people and say we are starting a fundraising campaign, and they ask ‘what has the town done,’ we can say they’ve started in little pieces,” Cable said.

The Board of Finance and Board of Selectmen ultimately decided to take $1,000 from the refuse department to fund a clerk for a Building Committee to begin looking into the future use of the property.

The budget also includes money for a number of capital projects. These projects include $30,000 for the lease of two Ford Explorers for the Beacon Falls Police Department, $27,000 for a boom mower for the town’s public works department, and $28,500 for upgrades to the bathrooms at Beacon Hose Company No. 1.

The projects will not have an effect on the bottom-line of the budget as they are offset in part by the surplus from the 2014-15 budget.

Rodorigo said everyone worked together to craft a budget that decreases taxes and increases the town’s fund balance by $1.47 million to $10.74 million.

First Selectman Chris Bielik echoed Rodorigo’s comments, saying this budget process has been the most collaborative he has ever seen.

“The Board of Finance had specifically requested in the past to be more actively involved in the beginning part of the discussions with the department heads. So when we started with the budget at the beginning, there was no preliminary work done to any of the department requests. All the effort was done collaboratively with the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance together, looking at the same numbers to drive to an ultimate budget,” Bielik said.