NAUGATUCK – The joint boards of Mayor and Burgess and Finance worked late into the night Monday into Tuesday morning to put together a $106 million budget to present to the public.
The budget is a $2.3 million or 2.23 percent increase over the current budget. On the revenue side, state grants and other town revenues are down $575,000, leaving taxpayers to make up the difference in addition to the spending increase.
The proposed budget would raise property taxes about 3.7 percent and bump the mill rate up 1.18 mills, to 33.20 mills.
A mill is worth $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s assessed value. With the proposed increase, the owner of a $200,000 property would pay an additional $236 in taxes.
The budget will go to a public hearing May 23 at 6:30 p.m. at Naugatuck High School.
The longest debate at the meeting was over the school budget, which makes up over half the total budget. The finance board had previously reduced the originally requested $57.89 million school budget to $57 million. However, the joint board added $200,000 back to the school budget, bringing it to $57.2 million, a $745,000, 1.32 percent increase over this year’s budget. On the town side, the boards approved a $48.9 million budget, $1.6 million or 3.32 percent increase over this year.
Finance board member Diane Scinto was the strongest advocate for adding the money back. She felt cutting $800,000 from the Board of Education’s request was simply too much and would drastically impact student programs. With the $57 million figure, Scinto said items like much-needed textbooks and facilities maintenance would fall out. Scinto proposed a school budget of $57.3 million.
“We’re going to make the entire system suffer,” Scinto said.
On the other side, Board of Finance member Matt Katra pointed out that officials were already increasing the budget over last year. He thought it should be reduced to $56.8 million.
“There is no cut being made here,” Katra said.
Burgess Mike Ciacciarella agreed the school budget should be cut.
“I think we have an obligation to taxpayers,” he said.
The boards discussed asking for a freeze on teacher salaries, which make up a hefty portion of the school budget.
Mayor Robert Mezzo said that teacher’s expenses have gone down over the past three years, with teachers paying higher premiums for health care and a combination of layoffs and early retirements which resulted in a 14 percent reduction in staff. He said that a freeze might help the town for one year, but they had to bring benefits down to save money in the long run.
“That’s what’s killing us now,” he said.
Burgess Ron San Angelo said it’s time for the Board of Education to take a stand in contract negotiations with teachers.
School Superintendent John Tindall-Gibson argued that it had. He pointed out that the average school budget in Connecticut is set to rise 1.33 percent next year, more than Naugatuck’s increase.
After much back and forth, the joint boards approved the $57.2 million school budget 10-8 and moved on to the municipal budget.
Ciacciarella proposed reducing the office supply line item in each department by 10 percent, saving about $10,000 in the budget. Most of the other board members agreed, passing the majority of department budgets as presented with the reduction in office supplies.
However, there were some cuts made to certain departments’ request, including cutting part-time help for the Tax Department by 14 days, saving $1,029.
The police department budget became bone of contention with as some officials opposed the newly-created $20,000 blight officer position.
The position was created to enforce the new blight ordinance. But some members felt the borough couldn’t afford a new position at this time and its duties should be carried out by the zoning enforcement officer.
Mezzo argued that the town needs the position to enforce the ordinance and put liens on blighted properties owned by banks. The boards voted to cut funding for the position.
Burgess Bob Neth questioned a 50 percent increase in the police department’s computer costs over this year. Scinto assured the boards that the police had presented a well-reasoned plan for how all the monies would be used, but couldn’t remember the specifics. The board ended up cutting $6,831 from that line item, as well as $25,000 for overtime and $830 for office supplies.
The Hop Brook Golf Course also came under the joint boards’ knife. The boards cut $5,408 from the part-time and seasonal employee accounts, bringing the budget back to 2010-2011 levels of $395,000. According to Mezzo, there is a perception by some board members that the golf commission has not been receptive to the board’s suggestions and is reluctant to raise its fees.
The contingency fund was approved at $400,000, a $50,000 increase over this year, and the boards voted to maintain the capital projects budget current funding, which funds one-time expenses.