Citizens split about $5.86m BF budget

BEACON FALLS — The Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance presented their revised 2010-11 municipal budget to a crowd of more than 100 citizens Tuesday night at Beacon Hose Co. No. 1 to what appeared to be more support than opposition.

The $5.86 million budget will be sent to referendum June 2—changed from the original date of May 27—at Laurel Ledge Elementary School, where Beacon Falls officials hope more than the 642 voters—about 20 percent of those registered—that voted on this month’s Region 16 budget will voice their opinions.

The joint boards voted last week to cut almost $85,000 from the proposed budget after the initially proposed, $5.95 million budget failed at a May 5 town meeting. The proposed budget reflects a $391,402, or 7.2 percent, increase, of which $282,625 would be funded by new taxes.

Feedback from the public was mixed. Several citizens felt the hike is far too much and that the town government is becoming too large.

“[First Selectman Susan Cable] must protect the town and not increase the budget,” resident Richard Card wrote in an e-mail read aloud at the hearing. “There is no room to pay for expanding our town government.”

“I don’t think there’s anybody in this town who wants to cut police and the fire department,” resident Toni Douglas said. “Why do you always cut those things? I think we should cut the town hall and have it open three days a week. I can’t take [the boards] serious if you’re not going to cut fireworks.”

Priscilla Cretella, vice chairman of the Board of Education, agreed, suggesting cuts should come from the town hall.

“We can’t take [money] out of the sewers; we can’t take it out of police or fire,” Cretella said. “What else is there?”

Douglas was one of several residents who voiced their opinions against cutting money earmarked for emergency services.

“Our budget is cut very slim,” Town Clerk Kurt Novak said. “It makes no sense. We’re funding our fireworks but not giving our firefighters equipment to fight. It makes no sense. I’d rather have no cuts at all. We’re cutting way too deep and cutting people’s safety.”

Resident Sue Mis agreed and was against cutting money from emergency services.

“Those people volunteer to save your lives. Which one do you want to put at risk?” Mis asked, to applause from part of the crowd.

Other citizens, such as Vince Morneau and Robin Spear, wanted to explore the town contingency fund and wastewater reserve fund to see if it could try to offset the $114,000 increase designated for the wastewater treatment plant.

Board of Finance Chairwoman Wendy Hopkinson explained the town had designated $100,000 of the wastewater reserve fund to be used in this budget and that the town needed some “wiggle room” to deal with rising utility and heating costs.

The most hotly debated issue of the night—perhaps about a month too late—was the Board of Education budget. Several residents voiced their displeasure with the $36.6 million budget passed at referendum earlier this month. That budget was responsible for a $601,579 increase to be funded by new taxes.

“I think we have these meetings in reverse,” resident Lou Krokosky said to applause from much of the audience. “This meeting doesn’t mean squat. The Board of Ed.—that’s where you need to cut. I live on a private road, and some people can’t even read a sign that says, ‘Private, no trespassing,’ so what’s our education even doing?”

“The burden falls on the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Finance to bring the town budget to referendum before the school budget,” resident Stan Osowiecki agreed. “It’s like a football game. It’s like we always start from our 10-yard-line trying to score and the opponent starts from the 50.”

The Board of Finance and Vice Chairman Gerard Smith advised the assembly that the Region 16 increase had already been passed, and that $601,579 increase was already set. He warned that if the town wanted a zero-increase budget, it would have to make almost $1 million in municipal cuts.

“Is everyone looking for a zero-increase budget?” Smith asked. “Because if that’s the case, you’re losing health and safety. We’ve already backed up some costs [to roads and wastewater treatment] by $500,000. Any further cuts will add extra expenses to the other side. [They] will drastically impact the landscape of this town and your way of life.”