Officials shave town spending

Editor’s note: The date of the budget referendum was changed to June 20 after Monday’s meeting. The story has been updated to reflect the change.

BEACON FALLS — After combing through the town budget for more than two hours on Monday night, officials cut nearly $74,000 from the spending plan that voters rejected at a town meeting.

The Board of Finance and Board of Selectmen backed a proposed $6.75 million municipal budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year. The proposal increases town spending by $464,070, or 7.3 percent, over the current municipal budget.

Officials sent the budget to a vote at a referendum on June 20 at Laurel Ledge Elementary School. Voting will take place from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m.

“This budget is pretty much what it costs to run the town,” Board of Finance Chairman Joe Rodorigo said. “Anything after this is personnel. This board has no control over personnel. So if we want to cut a nurse, a minibus driver, a librarian, or whatever else, that’s not us. It would have to come from a recommendation from the Board of Selectmen.”

The new budget spends $73,756 less than the town’s first proposal, which was voted down 200 to 90 at a town meeting on May 31, and shaves the projected mill rate increase slightly. The 2017-18 mill rate is set to increase 3 mills to 35.9 mills due to increases in spending and revenue losses.

One of the largest cuts made Monday night was $8,100 to improve the alarm system at Town Hall. The money would have paid for security items, including cameras, alarms and key fobs.

First Selectman Christopher Bielik said the items were recommended by the town’s risk assessment team. He said there were some minor thefts from Town Hall, including money stolen from the petty cash draw in the Beacon Falls Library on the top floor. However, he said, there haven’t been any significant incidents recently.

The boards also cut the entire $4,400 for subsidies the town gives to youth sports leagues. The cuts also include $3,000 from zoning enforcement officer wages; $500 from the sesquicentennial committee, $2,000 from fire department maintenance, $5,000 for a new fire hose; $12,500 for part-time police patrol; $2,000 from police overtime; $5,000 from vehicle maintenance; $5,000 from snow removal materials; $1,000 from court maintenance; and $2,081 from the minibus driver.

Officials did add one item to the budget: an economic development coordinator position. The position is designed to market the town and bring new businesses into Beacon Falls.

The boards added $35,000 to pay for the partial salary of the position, which isn’t expected to be in place for the full 2017-18 fiscal year.

Officials hope the position would pay for itself and add revenue by attracting businesses to town.

Before making any cuts to the budget, officials voiced displeasure with having to remove anything from the original spending plan.

“I believe this budget here, as we presented last week, should be the budget that goes to the referendum,” Board of Finance member Joe Dowdell said. “I don’t believe the vote that happened last week was a true representation of the town. It was a small group of people that don’t like the fact that their taxes have gone up and now want everyone in town to suffer for it.”

“We wouldn’t have put it out to the vote last week if we didn’t believe that everything in here is absolutely necessary. If we start cutting things, we are going to cut things that we believe are necessary,” Bielik added.

The majority of people that came to last week’s town meeting didn’t feel the same way, though their issues had more to do with the mill rate increase and not town spending.

Much of the mill rate increase is due to factors out of the town’s control.

The town budget doesn’t include school spending for Region 16, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect. Region 16’s $40.9 million school budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year was approved in May and increases spending overall by $404,934. However, due to a projected loss in state revenue, the town’s net education cost — the portion paid through local taxes — is set to increase $313,383.

The majority of the increase in the mill rate comes from a loss of revenue due to a drop in the grand list from a recent revaluation of property.

Due to the revaluation, the town’s 2016 net grand list decreased $25.1 million, or 5.12 percent, to $464.4 million. A municipality’s grand list is a tabulation of the assessed values of real estate, personal property and motor vehicles.

A mill rate increase of 1.9 mills is needed to balance out the loss of revenue in the grand list.

For the majority of residents in the town who saw a drop in their home values this portion of the mill rate increase will have little to no effect on their real estate taxes. However, in Chatfield Farms, a 55 and older community off of Skokorat Road, the revaluation increased the assessment of their homes, meaning that residents in the community are facing significant increases in their tax bill due to higher home values.

Many Chatfield Farms residents came to last week’s town meeting to vote against the town budget.

“It’s very unfair. We are on a fixed income and we are already helping with school taxes that are too high,” said Irene Vesely at the town meeting.

Vesely said the town wasn’t entirely at fault and laid some of the blame on Gov. Dannell Malloy, whose proposed two-year state budget would increase costs to the town.

“Beacon Falls is in a bad situation. A lot of people are saying they are going to move out,” Vesely said.

Chatfield Farms resident Phyllis Coppolella echoed Vesely’s comments.

“I think it is very unfair. That’s why I am here tonight, to vote ‘no,’” Coppolella said. “I think they need to hear the people who have had all their values and assessments go up.”