Council gets to work on budget

PROSPECT — The Town Council last week got its first look at the proposed 2017-18 municipal budget, a plan that would increase town spending by $271,874, or nearly 3.3 percent.

Mayor Robert Chatfield presented a roughly $8.55 million budget proposal to the council during a special meeting on March 9.

The proposed budget includes 3 percent wage increases for regular employees and 5 percent increases for the town clerk and tax collector. The town clerk and tax collector positions, which are elected, are only eligible for raises in an election year. Chatfield said the 5 percent raises for the positions cover the next two years.

The town clerk salary will increase to $53,657, while the tax collector’s salary will increase to $53,959, under the proposal.

The proposed budget doesn’t include a wage increase for the mayor’s position.

Employee benefits are projected to increase $174,880, which includes $100,000 more for medical benefits. Prospect is grouped together with Beacon Falls and the Region 16 school district, which oversees schools in the town towns, for medical insurance. Chatfield said the increase in medical benefits isn’t set in stone and could go down.

Public safety budgets will also see significant increases under the budget proposal.

The police department’s budget is set to increase $48,300, or about 5.4 percent, to $939,931. The bulk of the increase comes from an additional $25,000 for officer salaries and $10,785 more for the resident state trooper program.

The budget for the volunteer fire department will increase $34,679, or about 8.9 percent, to $422,789, under the proposal. The proposal includes $10,000 more for turnout gear, $5,000 more for pagers, an additional $2,500 for rescue equipment, and $5,500 more for training.

The proposed budget will also put $23,050 more into recreation programs and $10,000 more for park development. The Recreation Department’s budget will go up $36,388, or about 1.5 percent, to $276,910.

The increases are offset by decreases throughout the spending plan. The largest decrease is a $240,000 drop in principal debt payments. The town paid off the mortgage on the firehouse and two road bonds this fiscal year.

The town budget proposal doesn’t include school spending for Region 16, which makes up the bulk of residents’ local taxes. As of last week, the proposed 2017-18 school budget stood at about $41.4 million, an increase of $871,052, or 2.15 percent.

A slight increase in the 2016 grand list equated to about $292,000 in additional tax revenue based on the current 29.91 mill rate. A mill is worth about $845,400, according to Chatfield.

The additional revenue will be used to offset any overall increase in spending, but the impact of the proposed budget on the town’s mill rate remains to be seen and depends on revenues.

There are number of uncertainties facing the town, and every municipality in the state, regarding the state budget and state funding.

Gov. Dannel Malloy’s state budget proposal, which has been highly criticized, would mean less state aid for Prospect. The governor also wants towns to pay into the teachers’ pension fund for the first time, and towns that use the resident state trooper program to pay for 100 percent of the cost.

Chatfield’s proposed town budget includes $173,542 for the resident state trooper program, which would cover 85 percent of the cost, he said.

Another question centers on a proposal to consolidate health departments. Chatfield said if the plan proceeds as proposed it would mean the town would have to pay $422,000, rather than the $94,312 he budgeted for the town’s cost for the Chesprocott Health District.

The proposals coming from the state remain in flux.

While uncertainty remains, the council last week moved forward with giving its initial approval to about 20 budget items that didn’t change much or it has little control over. The council will now review the spending plan over a series of workshops leading up to a public hearing on April 18.

“As always it reflects just the basic needs of the town, there’s nothing over the top there,” said council Chairman Tom Galvin when asked for his initial reaction to Chatfield’s proposed budget. “Obviously, we’re going to be looking to squeeze every nickel out that we can.”