PROSPECT — A 2010-11 town budget representing a $337,000, or 5.1 percent, increase over the current year narrowly passed a public referendum last Wednesday, 347-331.
Mayor Bob Chatfield acknowledged the 16-vote winning margin was a small one, but added it’s “not as close as when I lost the referendum by two votes a few years ago.”
He felt that divided public opinion of the budget is “a sign of the times,” that people may be afraid of a tax increase he maintains “isn’t really going to happen.”
Chatfield expects increased revenues, buffeted by growth of the town’s grand list, will account for the increase.
He added that residents who are concerned about the town’s budget should get out to public meetings or examine the budget to get the details—“not many people came to pick up copies of the budget,” he said.
“I always think that [residents] object to an increase when they circulate a petition [to send a budget to referendum], but let me preface that by saying our form of government is mayor, town council, town meeting. There weren’t very many people at our public hearing, and that’s unfortunate. If you want to know what’s going on in the budget, come to some budget workshops. Come to the public hearing.”
The referendum cost the town slightly less than $2,000. Had the budget been voted up or down at a town meeting, as per tradition, that expense would have been avoided.
Marybeth Knobel, a resident who helped to circulate the petition to send the budget to referendum, said that was “money well spent,” since it got almost 700 people involved in the budget process rather than the few dozen that may have turned out for a town vote.
“With a hand vote, a very limited amount of people show up for that,” she said. “It’s at 7 at night, people are home with their families, and I was thinking that it should go to a budget referendum—that way, everyone would have a chance to vote for the full day.”
She echoed Chatfield’s concern about not many people showing up to budget workshops or the public hearing.
“We have to be aware that people don’t go to those town meetings. People don’t show up to those budget hearings. There’s very limited participation from the public. I wanted to give them a chance to voice their opinion. It passed, and the people spoke.”
She said she got involved with the petition, which required 200 signatures to force a referendum—not necessarily because she objected to the increase, but because she wanted to ensure greater public participation.
The increase was the result of a 2-percent pay raise for non-elected town employees—excepting public works; the union is still in negotiations with the town—as well as increases in health and liability insurance, an obligation to start funding the upcoming property revaluation and a one-year increase in bonding payments.
Chatfield blamed some of the increase on mandates, including the revaluation and required gear for new fire department volunteers.
“I don’t want to keep using that word, [mandated], all the time, but that’s what it is,” he said.
The town also increased the snow and ice removal account, at $30,000 over this year’s allocation, as it frequently runs over its budgeted amount.
“Our accountant recommended putting more money in accounts that we frequently transfer money into,” Chatfield said. “That’s just good budget work.
“I thank everybody who voted yes, and I thank everyone else who came out and took part in the process,” he added.