Voters approve 3 out of 4 capital projects

From left, Beacon Falls Selectman Michael Krenesky, First Selectman Christopher Bielik and Selectman Peter Betkoski talk to voters about items to be voted on during a public hearing prior to a town meeting Jan. 3 at Woodland Regional High School. During the meeting, voters approved spending up to $98,000 from the unassigned fund balance for three capital projects. –LUKE MARSHALL

BEACON FALLS — Voters gave their blessing to using surplus money to pay for three out of four capital projects at a town meeting last week.

In total, voters approved spending up to $98,000 from the unassigned fund balance for the three projects.

By a vote of 165 to 11, voters OK’d using $43,000 to make security upgrades at the police and fire departments. A $30,000 expenditure to buy personal protection equipment for Beacon Hose Company No. 1 was approved 168 to 2, and spending $25,000 for new portable radios for the fire department was approved 168 to 4.

A fourth project, $29,000 to upgrade the phone system at Town Hall, was rejected 85 to 95.

All four of the capital projects had originally been part of the 2017-18 municipal budget but were removed as part of a clerical oversite, Board of Finance Vice Chairman Joe Rodorigo said.

“It was always part of the conversation. It was always presented to the public. It was always given to you with every document you picked up,” Rodorigo said. “When we caught [the error] we said it would be disingenuous to move forward without bringing it back to the public.”

First Selectman Christopher Bielik said the town currently has in excess of $1.1 million in its unassigned fund balance. Since the projects are being paid with money in the fund balance, the cost will not affect anyone’s tax bills, he said.

“It doesn’t change the taxes in any way. This is not something we are trying to sneak through the back door. In fact, it is the opposite of that. We are being overly transparent by bringing it again to let everybody see exactly what we are doing,” Bielik said.

Last week marked the second time officials brought the projects to 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 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.

“When we had that vote there was some concern that the state budget had not yet passed. So there was a great deal of uncertainty as to whether we were going to be receiving a bill from the state that we would have to write a big check for. It turned out that that did not occur,” Bielik said.

However, there was also concern from residents of Chatfield Farms, a private community for people 55 years old and older.

Chatfield Farm residents saw their property assessments rise while most of the assessments around town went down during the last revaluation. This, combined with a drop in the grand list and increase in town and school spending, caused the property taxes on homes in Chatfield Farms to jump significantly higher than the rest of the town.

At the August meeting, Chatfield Farms residents, who mostly voted against using the money, voiced their concern that they were not being treated fairly by the town.

Last week, a number of Chatfield Farms residents again voiced their frustrations.

“Somebody up there talked about a $1 million surplus when half the people in this audience got stuck with a big tax bill,” Harry Roscoe said.

Bielik said the town will be putting the upgrades to the Town Hall phone system into the capital projects for the 2018-19 municipal budget. He said the phone system is antiquated, has problems with the voicemail on a regular basis, and sometimes stops working all together.

“The need has not gone away,” Bielik said.