Mayors’ budget decisions take prudence, planning

The sluggish economy continues to make things difficult on people trying to manage their money. That goes for local mayors during the budget season, too.

Prospect Mayor Bob Chatfield and Naugatuck Mayor Bob Mezzo spend plenty of their springs on crafting a budget that they think will best balance taxes with progress in their communities.

Prospect Mayor Bob Chatfield

In Prospect, Chatfield had to deal with a $45 million decrease in the town’s grand list following last year’s revaluation. The grand list went from nearly $830 million to about $784 million, a hit of nearly six percent.

“It was more than what I thought,” said Chatfield, whose budget passed a town vote in late April. “I had no idea what it would be, but I never thought it would go down $45 million.”

Naugatuck’s revaluation is just getting underway and will be finished in October, so Mezzo didn’t have to factor that in to this year’s budget. But he expects Naugatuck’s grand list to go down like most other towns, too, which would likely necessitate higher taxes in the future.

“It’s still going to require a certain amount of money to run your government,” Mezzo said. “Unfortunately, to make up for the loss in assessment, you’ll see an increase in the mill rate.”

The mayors are stuck in a conundrum of whether to draft a budget that helps services but raises taxes, or build one that keeps taxes the same but can’t get as much work done.

“I was going to bond some money to reconstruct some roads this year,” Chatfield said. “But when I saw the grand list go down $45 million, I didn’t think that it would be prudent to even consider doing that.”

“There have been some signs of recovery,” Mezzo said. “But we’re still facing the same number-crunching that we’ve done for the past few years.”

Even though adding significant capital projects to their budgets this year may have been ill-advised, both mayors are still trying to plan ways to get work done in the near future.

Robert Mezzo

Naugatuck Mayor Bob Mezzo

Mezzo says dipping into the town’s capital reserve fund is an option in lean budget years, but it should be done sparingly.

“Each year, our controller (Wayne McAllister) comes and says to us, if we have a surplus, that it’s appropriate to use a certain amount of that–for lack of a better word–savings account,” Mezzo said. “We try to chip away at our capital needs by using appropriately our fund balance.”

Chatfield held off on including road work in this year’s budget, but the absence of work is allowing the town to more quickly pay off its existing bond debt by taking advantage of record-low interest rates.

“In about 4 1/2 more years, all my bonds will be debt-free,” Chatfield said.

Chatfield’s proposed budget increase of 1.1 percent will soon go into effect after it narrowly passed the town vote. Naugatuck’s budget will continue to come together over the next few weeks before a vote later this month.