Busy agenda on tap for town meeting

BEACON FALLS — Voters will have their say on a number of issues at a town meeting.

The Board of Selectmen will hold a town meeting on Jan. 3 at 7 p.m. at Woodland Regional High School, 135 Back Rimmon Road. Officials are seeking voter approval to move forward with changing two positions in Town Hall from elected to hired, changing the way Board of Finance members are appointed to fill vacancies, and spending money on capital projects.

Town officials want to make the tax collector and town clerk positions full-time hired positions instead of part-time elected ones.

Beacon Falls does not have a town charter, and the town is governed by ordinances and state statutes. A special act of the state legislature that was passed in 1949 dictates what positions are elected in town.

First Selectman Christopher Bielik explained the vote next week wouldn’t be to directly make the change, but rather to petition the General Assembly to make the necessary changes to the special act.

Town Clerk Len Greene said he has mixed feelings on the change.

On the positive side it would help find qualified people to run the office, Greene said.

Greene, who has been the town clerk for close to six years, said the office needs to be run by someone knowledgeable.

“Down the road, if they hire somebody, that person really needs to have some knowledge of what this office does,” Greene said.

On the other side, making the positions full time will cost the town significantly more money, Greene said.

Currently, the town clerk is paid $4,800 a year and the tax collector makes $12,000 annually.

Changing elected positions to hired ones has proven to be a difficult hurdle to overcome in other municipalities.

Naugatuck tried to change its charter in 2011 to make the tax collector and town clerk positions, which are elected, hired positions. Prospect tried to make the same changes in 2016. Both times voters in the towns rejected the changes at a referendum.

Beacon Falls has even a longer road to walk.

Even if Beacon Falls voters support the change, there is no guarantee that the state legislature will vote to amend the special act.

If everything moves forward as planned, there is still a question of when the positions would be changed.

Greene was re-elected to a four-year term and Tax Collector Mary Anne Holloway was re-elected to a two-year term in November.

Both Greene and Bielik were unsure whether an elected term could be interrupted if the town votes to make the positions hired.

“That’s another question we have to figure out,” Greene said.

Even if the town has to wait for current terms to end, Bielik said, the town would be ready to move forward if the proposal goes ahead.

The town also wants to make another change to the 1949 special act to change how vacancies on the finance board are filled.

Finance board members are elected, but the Board of Selectmen chooses someone to fill a vacancy on the board in between elections. Officials want to change the process so that the members of the finance board have the authority to appoint a new member to fill a vacant seat.

The change would require the legislature to rescind a portion of the 1949 special act. The town would then adopt the process dictated by state statute chapter 106 section 7-343, which states finance board members will appoint a person to fill the vacancy. The seat would then be up for election at the next municipal election.

Voters will be asked to allow the town to request the legislature to take that action.

The six-member finance board can have a maximum of three members from one political party.

Bielik said the common practice in town has been for the Board of Selectmen to reach out to the Democratic or Republican town committee — depending on the party of the person who vacated a seat — to make a recommendation for a candidate to fill the seat.

Bielik said this process was ignored six years ago when the Board of Selectmen appointed someone who was unaffiliated to fill a vacancy without consulting the respective town committee. He said officials want to change the process to ensure that doesn’t happen again and give the Board of Finance more control over its own future.

The final question that will be posed to voters is whether to spend up to $127,000 from the unassigned fund balance for four capital projects.

The town wants to use $43,000 for security upgrades at the police and fire departments, $30,000 for personal protection equipment for the fire department, $25,000 for new portable radios for the fire department, and $29,000 for phone system upgrades at Town Hall.

This is the second time these four projects will come before residents for a vote.

In August, voters overwhelmingly rejected spending the money by a vote of 113 to 30. The vote in August came after the town approved its 2017-18 municipal budget but before the state approved its biennial budget.

Bielik previously said that he believed the negative vote was primarily due to uncertainty surrounding the state budget and how much the town would be receiving in state aid.

Officials originally planned to seek permission to also spend $30,000 for two chest compression units for the fire department and $35,000 for new accounting software. However, the Board of Selectmen didn’t meet the deadline to get these two capital items on the agenda for next week’s town meeting, Bielik said.