Council deliberates over budget

PROSPECT — The Town Council this week continued fine-tuning the 2017-18 municipal budget proposal.

Heading into a budget workshop on Monday night, the proposed spending plan stood at a little more than $8.46 million. That figure is an increase of $187,795, or about 2.26 percent, over the current budget. It’s about $84,000 less than the proposal Mayor Robert Chatfield presented in March.

The spending plan is not a finished product.

On Monday, the council made further adjustments to the proposal, including increasing the salaries for the nine council members.

Council members are paid $300 each a year, which means the town pays $2,700 total annually right now. The wages for council members can only be increased during an election year.

Council Chairman Thomas Galvin said the council should consider increasing the wages because the job has become “significantly more laborious.”

Council member Douglas Merriman said he liked the salary the way it is now, adding the position is a volunteer one.

The council came to the consensus that the salaries should be raised. Council member Patricia Geary said the time council members put in to the job has significantly increased over the years, including the recent formation of new subcommittees.

The council approved increasing the wage to $1,200 per year for each council member, a 400 percent increase, for a total of $10,800 annually. The increase would go into effect following the election in November.

Council member Jeffrey Slapikas abstained from the vote. He feels the increase is deserved, but said he doesn’t think anyone should be getting an increase in the 2017-18 budget.

As budget deliberations move forward, officials expect to see a substantial reduction in the increase for medical benefits.

The proposal, as it stood Monday, showed medical benefits costing $580,000, which is a $100,000 increase, or 20.8 percent, from this year’s budget.

Town employees have been pooled with employees from Region 16, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, for health care the past couple of years. At first the move yielded some savings, but now the cost to the town is spiking.

Chatfield said the town will no longer pool with Region 16. Instead, he said, he is looking into joining the state’s health care pool, which includes more than 20 towns and state employees.

Chatfield said the town would have to agree to stay in the pool for three years, but said doing so would be less expensive. He said he will have more information on figures early next week, but added the savings to the town could be significant.

The council scheduled another workshop for Wednesday in hopes of wrapping up a handful of budget items. A public hearing on the proposed budget is scheduled for April 18 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.

The municipal budget doesn’t include spending for Region 16. The school board presented a $41.2 million budget at a public hearing late last month. The budget would increase spending by $682,934 over this fiscal year’s budget. However, Prospect’s net education cost is projected to be roughly $19.1 million, an increase of about $1.3 million, or 7.46 percent, from this fiscal year. The projection is based on a cuts in state revenue under Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposed two-year, $40.6 billion state budget.