Beacon Falls budget filled with doubts

Movement underway to force referendum

Beacon Falls Budget Summary

Beacon Falls Budget Summary

When the Beacon Falls Boards of Finance and Selectmen voted to send their $5.9 million municipal budget to a town hall vote last week, they did so with reservations.

After hearing from voters who told them to cut more from their already slim budget, the boards acquiesced, debating additional cuts late into the night after the public hearing April 12. The proposed budget cuts many services that could end up costing the town more in the long run.

The final budget they came up with carries a spending increase of $184,326, or 3.2 percent, down from the $337,427 increase they started the hearing with. However, when the spending increase is combined with decreases in revenue, the total impact on taxpayers is $425,070 more than last year.

Meanwhile, Beacon Falls’ portion of the Region 16 school budget is set to increase by $141,811. If both the school and town budgets pass, the mill rate will be 26.2, up 0.6 mills from the current year.

The proposed budget offers a bare minimum of service, according to Board of Finance Chair Chris Bielik.

During the public hearing, Beacon Falls resident Joe Pavlic asked what the town is doing to lure businesses to help bring in additional revenues.

“What’s the Beacon Falls Council of Economic Development doing? With a $1,500 budget, not much,” replied the council’s chair, Tony San Angelo.

San Angelo said there are 11 businesses in the town’s Industrial Park, and new manufacturers can receive tax abatement from the state. Businesses from Belgium and Italy have looked at Beacon Falls, San Angelo said.

“If you want to keep the businesses in town, spend your money in town,” San Angelo said.

San Angelo said local businesses are floundering in the poor economy.

“The economy is not there. The state is not helping us. There’s not a lot I can do with $1,500,” San Angelo said.

Later that evening, the joint boards discussed how they had to spend money on services and infrastructure to attract businesses.

Heading into the hearing, the boards had discussed eliminating $300,000 for trash collection, but decided against it. Private trash collection is likely to be more expensive than the tax for town pickup. However, it’s not off the table if the budget is rejected.

Another item that was brought up to be cut was the position of town nurse, which would save $23,859. The town nurse is a position unique to Beacon Falls. Bielik defended the position, saying the position was a great separator for the town and eliminating it would affect a great number of people without reducing the budget in a meaningful way. First Selectman Susan Cable agreed.

“The town nurse does a lot more than the town nurse position,” she said.

In addition to her duties caring for the citizens of Beacon Falls, Town Nurse Sue Mis takes care of workman’s compensation and state mandated safety programs.

“Whatever title she carries, we need that position,” Bielik said.

The budget is slated to go to a town hall vote at 7 p.m., April 27 at the firehouse. But, not everyone feels a town hall vote is the way to go.

Selectman Michael Krenesky voted against sending the budget to vote at a town meeting, saying he thought it should go to referendum.

Krenesky is not alone in his desire to have a referendum on the budget. Beacon Falls resident David Scott is circulating a petition to take the budget to referendum. He’s posted copies at 17 different locations around town, including the Beacon Falls Pharmacy, gas stations, and other businesses. He needs to turn 200 signatures in by April 26 to force a referendum.

“I want to see the budget on a referendum to make it easier for everybody to vote. The last time we had this, we had a vote down at the fire house. … It turned into a horror show,” Scott said.

He said it was hard to hear and took hours for everyone to vote by secret ballot because the registrar had to check everyone. Some people left without voting and others stuck around until 11 p.m. Scott said a lot of senior citizens won’t come to the town hall vote because they don’t drive after dark.

“I think everybody should have an opportunity to vote,” Scott said.

Scott said he wasn’t for or against the budget.

“The last number they came out with is not bad, but they have not given any explanation,” he said.

Scott said he didn’t want to have a battle with selectmen or the Board of Finance.

“This is strictly to get it on the voting machine,” he said.

Scott said anyone who can’t make it out to sign a petition can call him at home at (203) 729-9285 or (203) 233-9701.

Where’s the money going?

Increases

Tax Collector$5,582The town hopes by making the tax collector a full-time appointed position rather than a part-time elected position, they will be able to collect more money on back taxes. The increase in the tax collector salary was offset by a decrease in the assistant tax collector. Delinquent taxes currently total over $1 million. The boards are also considering offering a tax amnesty month to encourage those behind on their taxes to pay up.
Medical insurance$20,000Despite the increase, the town saved $25,000 by switching insurance carriers.
Pension$62,591Contractual requirements under Municipal Employees Retirement Fund.
Worker’s Compensation$19,000
Building maintenance$10,000The fire department needs new doors and other repairs.
Service award program$5,000This program awards volunteer firefighters who have been with the company for a certain number of years.
Water hydrants$6,921
Part-time police wages$28,577The hourly rate will increase from $21 to $23, the first increase in three years. It is still less than nearby towns. By contrast, full-time police earn $45 per hour on overtime.
Police overtime$10,000Police can earn revenue for the town when they use town vehicles to work in other towns.
Snow removal$10,000This account was underfunded this year. Town officials are expecting another harsh winter next year.
Vehicle maintenance$10,000The town has deferred replacement of existing vehicles, which become more expensive to repair as they age past standard replacement dates.
Bulky waste transfer$14,500The bulky waste facility has not been open for months due to lack of funding. This budget will allow it to open six times per year.
Independence Day Fireworks$5,000After getting cut from the budget last year, Park Pals is raising money to pay for it this year, but won’t be able to do it again.
Minibus driver$9,140This year, this line item was exhausted by January 31. However, the boards eliminated a $4,000 line item for a part-time bus driver and $18,000 from the originally planned increase.
Airpack lease$12,613The fire company received a grant to pay for most of their new airpacks, which are mandated by state law. The amount covers the rest of the balance.
New Police Car lease$9,923Police can earn income for the town by using this vehicle to help other towns.

Cuts

Telephone for town hall($8,000)The town will save money by switching providers.
Union wages($0)Although union employees are due for a contractual pay increase totaling $35,000, the boards plan to negotiate with the union to either eliminate the increase or put all employees on a 12 day furlough.
Labor attorney($15,000)The town is hoping they won’t need one.
Wastewater treatment($12,500)Savings in equipment replacement.
Leases on town vehicles($35,791)Items eliminated from budget.
Vehicle replacement($0)The town had hoped to replace a fire department and public works vehicle that are long overdue, but cut the program after hearing the public’s opinions. The vehicles would have cost 100,000
Wages for elected officials($0)Officials’ wages haven’t increased in 6 years.
Emergency equipment($3,500)Department requested $47,000, but only got $19,800.
Police vehicle repairs($0)Department requested $15,000, but only got $10,000.
New library study($0)The tiny library is looking to expand, but not this year.
Part-time activities director($0)The Parks and Recreation Department was looking for a new hire for $20,000, but didn’t get one.
Special projects($26,875)A number of special projects, including financial software, computer replacement, window replacement for the police department, refurbishing public works trucks, loader, and plow, and a municipal building study for Wolfe Ave. were requested, but not approved.
Senior Center telephoneAfter a comment from the public on the high cost of senior center telephone bills, the boards reduced that item from $3,700 to $2,200.