Prospect voters approve budget, borrowing

PROSPECT — The town’s spending for the 2017-18 fiscal year is set, but where the mill rate will end up remains to be seen.

Voters unanimously approved the town’s $8.45 million budget last week at a district meeting, which was attended by about 70 people. The budget increases municipal spending by $175,864, or about 2.1 percent, over this fiscal year’s budget.

“It’s a budget I can live with,” Town Council Chairman Tom Galvin said. “Over the past few years the Town Council has done a good job cutting the ‘fluff’ from those budgets. This year by requesting that the administration adhere to an open bid process for all outside services, we hope there may still be a bit more that we can trim.”

An $80,425, or 12.8 percent, increase in employee benefits is among the largest increases in the budget. The cost of medical benefits is going up $25,805 to $505,805 as the town switches where it gets its health care.

The town used to pool with Region 16, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, and Beacon Falls for health insurance. If the town stayed in the pool, Mayor Robert Chatfield said two “catastrophic” claims would have caused health benefits to increase to $580,000. The town is joining the Connecticut Partnership Plan, which covers state employees and about 40 municipal entities, to keep the increase down.

Public safety budgets are also going up.

The volunteer fire department’s budget is increasing $39,679, or about 10 percent, to $427,789. The increase includes $22,500 more for equipment and $5,800 more for training.

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 town budget doesn’t include spending for Region 16, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect. Region 16’s $40.9 million 2017-18 school budget passed at a district meeting two days before Prospect’s town meeting.

Prospect’s net education cost under the school budget is about $18.9 million, an increase of $1.15 million or 6.45 percent.

Although the town and school budgets are set, the Town Council tabled setting the mill rate for 2017-18 due to uncertainty surrounding the state’s budget. The council is likely to set the mill rate in June.

The state is facing a projected budget deficit of close to $5.4 billion over the next two fiscal years. State legislators and Gov. Dannell Malloy continue to debate the budget and how to close the deficit. The amount of state revenue municipalities will receive isn’t known, and under Malloy’s budget proposal Prospect’s state aid would be cut.

A loss in state revenue would have to be made up through the mill rate.

“I’m very concerned that Hartford’s out of control spending will significantly increase every taxpayer’s local property taxes, but that’s something we can’t control,” Galvin said.

When asked by a resident what the worst-case scenario for the mill rate could be, Chatfield estimated the mill rate could go up 1 mill or 1.5 mills. A mill is worth about $845,400 in Prospect.

The town’s 2016 grand list increased slightly, which means an additional $292,000 in tax revenue based on the current 29.91 mill rate to help offset the spending increase and a potential loss in state aid.

Along with the budget, voters also unanimously approved borrowing up to $750,000 for repairs to roads, including Bronson Road, Coer Road, Pinecrest Drive and Cook Road. The work will include milling, repaving, drainage work, and replacing curbs and catch basins. Chatfield said the money should get about 5 miles of roads milled and paved.