Town meeting to decide budget, borrowing

PROSPECT — Voters will get their say on the town’s proposed budget and a plan to borrow money for road repairs at a town meeting next week.

The Town Council last week approved an $8.45 million municipal budget proposal for the 2017-18 fiscal year. The proposal increases spending by $175,864, or about 2.1 percent, over this fiscal year’s budget.

The budget will be voted on a town meeting May 3 at the Prospect Community Center — the former Community School — at 12 Center St. The town meeting starts at 7 p.m. The budget could be forced to a referendum through a petition process. As of Friday morning, no petitions had been taken out, according to officials.

Some of the largest increases in the spending plan come under health benefits and public safety.

The cost of health benefits is going up $80,425, or about 12.8 percent, to $708,925. However, that increase is less than originally thought.

For the past few years, the town pooled with Region 16, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, and Beacon Falls for health insurance. If the town stayed in this pool, the cost of benefits was projected to increase $174,880, or nearly 29 percent.

Mayor Robert Chatfield said the town will join the Connecticut Partnership Plan, which covers state employees and about 40 municipal entities, instead. He said the town has to sign on for three years, but doing so will be cheaper for the town in the long run.

The fire department’s budget is slated to increase $39,679, or about 10 percent, to $427,789. The proposal includes $22,500 more for equipment and $5,800 more for training, Chatfield said the cost for the firefighter one class for new firefighters is nearly doubling to $1,200. He said members pay for the class upfront, then the department reimburses them after the class is completed.

The police department’s budget is increasing $38,802, or nearly 4.3 percent. The increase includes $25,000 more officers’ salaries and $10,785 more for the resident state trooper program.

The police budget comes with a question mark, Chatfield said. The budget covers 85 percent of the resident state trooper program, but the state is pushing to make towns that use the program cover the entire cost. Chatfield said if the town has to pay 100 percent next fiscal year the additional money will have to be transferred from elsewhere in the budget.

Other increases include $23,513 more for insurance, $32,288 more for recreation and $15,000 more for ice and salt.

Chatfield said the town was locked-in to a price for workers’ compensation the last three years, but that will go up next fiscal year leading to the increase in insurance.

The additional funds for recreation will go toward changing the lights at a field to LED lights, burying some wires and replacing telephone poles at Hotchkiss Park, Chatfield said.

The town is also going to buy a new kind of salt called “Magic Salt,” which is more expensive, to treat roads next winter, he added.

The budget proposal also includes increasing the wages for council members from $300 a year to $1,200 per year, a 400 percent increase, for a total of $10,800 annually. The increase would go into effect following the election in November.

Some areas of the budget went down, namely debt payment, which is going down $240,000. The town paid off the mortgage on the firehouse and two road bonds this fiscal year.

The cost of truck leases is dropping by $37,151, as well, since the town has paid off a lease on a tri-axle dump truck.

The municipal budget doesn’t include spending for Region 16, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect. The Board of Education has approved a $40.9 million school budget proposal that will go to a vote on Monday. The proposal would increase Prospect’s net education cost $1.15 million, or 6.45 percent, to about $18.9 million, based on revenue projections in Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposed two-year state budget.

The state budget process is far from finished, and uncertainty surrounds what towns will actually receive in revenue. That uncertainly means the council will postpone setting the mill rate until June when officials hope they will have a clearer picture on revenues.

“We’ll have to what and see what the state does,” Chatfield said.

The town will also seek voters’ permission next week to borrow $750,000 to make road repairs to several streets, including Bronson Road, Coer Road, Pinecrest Drive and Cook Road. Chatfield said the work will include milling, repaving, drainage work, and replacing curbs and catch basins. He said the town will borrow the money from a bank rather than bond it, and the town’s advisers expect the interest rate to be “well under” 2 percent.

Chatfield urged voters to come to the town meeting and get any questions on the budget they have answered.

“Some towns don’t get the chance to do this,” he said.