Beacon Falls officials trim budget proposal, send it back to referendum

Beacon Falls Board of Finance Chair Chris Bielik discusses the town budget Tuesday night.

Beacon Falls Board of Finance Chair Chris Bielik discusses the town budget Tuesday night.

BEACON FALLS – A $19.16 million town budget will be heading back to referendum May 31. The Joint Boards of Finance and Selectmen voted to approve a budget with a 0.5 mill increase over this year’s budget during a special meeting Tuesday night, putting the proposed mill rate at 26.1. The budget is down a tenth of a mill from the last budget which failed in referendum.

A mill is worth $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value, so a homeowner with property worth $200,000 would pay $5,220 in taxes.

The boards were able to nudge down the budget increase through a combination of cuts and increases in revenue from the state.

They reduced line items for trash collection by $2,000, part-time police raises by $8,000, and bulky waste transfer by $9,000.

On the revenue side, the town expects to receive a new $59,000 grant from the state.

Board members seemed to think their failure to pass the budget the first time was in part a public relations issue.

Beacon Falls taxpayers compared their budget increase to other towns, like Prospect, which had no increase. But board members said this was not a fair comparison. First Selectman Susan Cable said Beacon Fall’s mill rate is still less than many surrounding towns.

“We’re not the big taxing town,” she said.

Board of Finance Chair Chris Bielik said it’s hard to get the message out to the people, who only see the headline increase without looking at the details.

“I don’t believe that we’re asking for anything pie-in-the-sky in this budget,” he said.

Going into Tuesday’s meeting, board members were hoping for some good news about other avenues to cut the budget, but none was forthcoming.

Cable looked into the possibility of offering a tax amnesty month to collect more back taxes, but the process turned out to be rather complicated. The town would have to get a special grant from the state legislature to pass a referendum for such a program, something not likely to be accomplished this session.

Cable said she also met with Prospect Mayor Bob Chatfield and the resident troopers to see if the two towns could share one trooper, but found out it was not possible because the two towns don’t border each other.

The boards also discussed lowering the $500 tax credit to the elderly. Any change to the credit wouldn’t take affect until the 2012-13 budget.

The Board of Selectmen met with union leaders May 11, but left disappointed, Cable said.

“It was just not a good sit-down,” she said.

A pay freeze is already built into the budget, cutting $32,650 that would have been spent on raises. If unions don’t agree to the freeze, the town will institute furlough days to make up the difference. Twelve furlough days would save the town $49,626.

Union leaders feel the town doesn’t have the authority to institute furlough days. However, Selectman Michael Krenesky disputed that, saying the union contract specifically states that the town can do both layoffs and furloughs.

In addition, the town is looking to eliminate both longevity pay and insurance buyback, saving the town a total of about $48,000 if it gets all the concessions it’s looking for.

The selectmen and unions will meet again Friday to continue negotiations after the unions responded to a May 12 letter asking if they would agree to the conditions.

“I believe there will be some concessions, but I can’t say where or what,” Cable said.

If the two parties reach an agreement Friday, the reduction would be included in the budget heading for referendum, but board members agreed they couldn’t hold up the vote on the hope that they’d get the concessions.

Union concessions have been a sticking point for some residents who see the town as weak on pressing unions to capitulate.

Beacon Falls resident Medardo Carralelo spoke during the meeting, saying officials need to take a stand against unions.

Board members argued that they had taken a strong stance, but even with union concessions, they wouldn’t save drastic amounts of money.

Cable said she was also looking at privatizing some town services such as parks, sewer, and road maintenance in the future, but that wouldn’t affect next year’s budget.

Bielik and other members said that from what they heard from residents, most townspeople don’t support cutting either trash service or positions such as the town nurse.