BEACON FALLS – Taxpayers shot down a $5.9 million municipal budget by 51 votes at a referendum Tuesday.
Only 823 of the town’s 3,220 registered voters turned out to voice their opinion on the town’s finances.
The proposed budget carried an increase of $184,326, or 3.2 percent.
Beacon Falls voters also said no to the Region 16 school budget by an 81-vote margin. However, the school budget passed by 124 votes thanks to overwhelming support in Prospect.
The impact on the mill rate would have been an increase of 0.6 mills to 26.2 mills when taking into account the school budget.
For the Beacon Falls Boards of Finance and Selectmen, it’s back to the drawing board to see where they can squeeze out a few extra dollars from the budget.
“It’s hard to guess what the people are saying,” First Selectman Susan Cable said. “The way the economy is, I would assume they felt it should be cut.”
The Board of Selectman is expected to meet Monday and the Board of Finance is expected to meet Tuesday to discuss possible changes.
“I just get very upset because we’re trying to move ahead, but we keep taking steps backwards, even with good financial planning,” Cable said, who blamed many of the town’s problems on the poor economy.
She said a lot of people don’t understand how the budget is put together.
Cable said since the budget didn’t pass, the town will have to start cutting services. Possible areas to cut include more furlough days for town employees. The current proposed budget already included union concessions, which would have equaled 12 furlough days. Cable said there is also a possibility that the town will have to eliminate trash pickup.
“The only people that are for that are people who have private services,” Cable said.
Cable said she’s looking at negotiating to cut other benefits to town employees, including an insurance buy back for those that don’t get medical insurance and larger co-pay for those who do. She said she’s also looking at eliminating all longevity pay.
Cable said she’ll revisit lowering tax abatements to seniors and fireman.
She said she is meeting with trash people to look at alternatives for trash and looking to only open the transfer station for bulky waste four months a year. In the currently proposed budget, the station will be open six times a year.
Other places the town could cut are the $2 raise for part-time police officers who haven’t gotten a raise in a long time and re-looking at life insurance to firehouse members. She is considering charging rental for fire hydrants on private property, something that other towns do, Cable said.
She said she will also look at park maintenance to see if that can be cut back a little bit more.
“Looking at all these things, it affects services, and it affects people. These are not easy decisions,” Cable said.
Cable said a municipal budget is different than a business because there are a lot of restrictions on how monies can be used.
She said she would also look at the revenue side of the budget. The latest figures from Hartford indicate that Beacon Falls might receive $59,379 from new state taxes, which could help ease the budget.
“It means nothing unless I see the check,” Cable said.
Board of Finance Chair Chris Bielik said people see everything going up except their paychecks and they don’t understand why the town needs more money.
“The budget that we’re proposing here today doesn’t have anything extra in it,” Bielik said outside the polls on Tuesday. “We’re basically just trying to keep up the town the way it is.”
To make the budget any lower, Bielik said the town would have to cut services, but some services, like plowing roads, maintaining buildings, gas and utilities just can’t be cut.
“Roads don’t fix themselves,” Bielik said.
He said the Board of Finance worked hard, staying four hours after the public hearing to incorporate the public’s feedback into the budget.
“We try to make everything as transparent as possible in this town,” Bielik said.
He said he would have preferred a town vote to a referendum because it saves the town money. The Board of Finance wanted to pass the town budget before the school budget so there wouldn’t be any confusion, but the budget was forced to referendum by petition.
“I’m incredibly disappointed by this because I feel the budget we passed was the right one for the town,” Bielik said about the budget being rejected.
For some people at the polls, the town budget shouldn’t go up until their social security checks go up.
“I don’t know why the budget keeps going higher and higher and higher all the time,” said Beacon Falls resident Roy Bachin, who is living off social security.
He felt benefits to town employees are too high.
For some voters, it wasn’t about the quality of items in the budget but about taxes.
“We pay a good amount of taxes now. We don’t think we need to pay more,” Beacon Falls resident Deanna Merriman said.
Other voters were looking with fear at the budget coming down from Hartford. They said they couldn’t afford more taxes than the ones proposed in Gov. Dannel Malloy’s budget.
“I have mixed emotions,” said Pat Trybus, who added she wasn’t against the budget, but the tax increases were just too much money all at once.
Trybus said she would have preferred to see the status quo, with no increase like the budget recently passed in Prospect.
Bielik pointed out that Prospect didn’t cut anything from its budget. Increased revenues from bonds the town paid off this year and a higher grand list balanced out a slight increase in Prospect’s budget.
In Beacon Falls, the town is dealing with a $528,000 shortfall in revenues, Bielik pointed out at the hearing.
“I’m not sure that the message necessarily resonated through the electorate of Beacon Falls,” Bielik said.
Other voters thought the budget was fair.
“I think that both the town administration and the Board of Education used due diligence in preparing a fair-minded budget,” Beacon Falls resident Paul Drabicki said.
Connie Sexton agreed.
“I think it’s fair—a little increase, but not bad,” she said.
Anita Georig, vice-chair of the Conservation Commission, said the budget is as small as possible without doing damage to town services.
“I think we’re in a position where this is bare bones. … We’re between a rock and a hard place,” Georig said.
With revenues down, she said the town is in a tight financial position. She said the Board of Finance did a great job putting the budget together.
“They worked tirelessly to pull together a budget without putting us in a bad position,” she said.