BOF backs $106M borough budget

NAUGATUCK—The Board of Finance recommended a $105.98 million budget for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

The budget, which was recommended during a May 9 budget workshop, would increase spending by $2.2 million or 2.13 percent over the current budget.

“At this point I think it’s too high,” said Mayor Robert Mezzo, in a subsequent interview.

Mezzo said officials have combed the budget for further cuts. But, he said, cuts are coming up fewer and farther between.

“The low-hanging fruit has been plucked,” Mezzo said. “There’s not a lot of easy choices left.”

Since the 2008-2009 fiscal year, the town budget has increased 0.07 percent Mezzo said. He said the borough can only sustain such an increase for so long.

On the municipal side, the finance board supported a $48.98 million town budget, which would increase spending $1.7 million or 3.53 percent.

Borough officials looked at layoffs on the town side last year, and Mezzo said layoffs will most likely be looked at a again in an attempt to bring that figure down.

However, Mezzo added, layoffs don’t equate to as large of savings as some people think because the borough will have to pay unemployment benefits for workers laid off and layoffs could impact overtime as well.

The recommended budget will go before the Joint Boards of Finance and Mayor and Burgesses Monday night for approval before heading to a public hearing.

The Board of Education’s budget makes up more than half of the total recommended budget.

The finance board approved a $57 million budget, 7-4, for the school board, which would increase school spending by $545,311 or a little less than 1 percent.

The school board originally requested a roughly $57.89 million budget, a $1.4 million spending increase, for the coming school year. After reviewing the education board’s proposal, the finance board reduced the request by $893,786.

Some finance board members felt that there’s room for reductions in the requested school budget through eliminating teacher positions because student enrollment is declining.

“If we’re going to see continuing decline in enrollments we have to keep our expenses in line,” finance board member Daniel Sheridan Jr. said.

Superintendent of Schools John Tindall-Gibson said over the past 10 years, the school district is down about 1,000 students. But, he said, the district also has 55 fewer teachers due to budget constraints. He felt, using a ratio of 20 students per one teacher, the loss of teachers pretty much matches the decline in enrollment and the staffing level is on par with where it should be.

“Staff wise, we’re probably at where we ought to be,” Tindall-Gibson told the board.

Finance board member Matthew Katra expressed concerns over continually increasing school spending.

If a town cuts its school budget under whatever the current level may be at that time, it risks losing state grants for education.

Katra felt every increase given to the school board sets a new standard the borough will have meet going forward.

“We keep raising the floor. … We just can’t keep raising the floor higher and higher every year,” Katra said.

School board member David Heller said school officials worked hard to get to the figure they requested. He said the board is not asking for the money for frivolous, unusual programs.

“We’re asking this money for our students, for our kids,” Heller told the finance board, prior to its recommendation.

With about 81 percent of the school budget tied up in payroll costs, Tindall-Gibson and Heller said any reductions in the school budget would mean staff layoffs and cuts to programs.

“We’re trying to be as reasonable as possible,” Tindall-Gibson said.