BEACON FALLS — With little wiggle room in the municipal budget, town officials say it’s crucial for Region 16 to keep school spending in check.
“I don’t want taxes to go up, and I want Region 16 to come in lower, but there’s not a lot of play in (the municipal) budget that represents what we can do,” said Board of Finance Vice Chairman Joseph Rodorigo during a budget workshop last week.
The finance board and Board of Selectmen combed through the 2018-19 budget proposal during the workshop, ultimately cutting $16,000 from the spending plan.
The town’s budget proposal stood at roughly $6.9 million after the workshop. The proposal would increase municipal spending by $197,519, or about 2.9 percent, over the current budget. Officials will continue budget deliberations during the finance board’s meeting on March 13.
Based on current revenue projections, which show a slight decrease, and assuming the school budget for Region 16, which is comprised of Beacon Falls and Prospect, comes in flat, the town would need to generate an additional $328,244 in tax revenue. This would increase the mill rate by about 0.6 mills to 36.5 mills. A mill is $1 in taxes for every $1,000 in assessed property value.
Finance Manager Thomas Broesler said employee costs make up the bulk of the town’s budget, including about $2 million for salaries, $1.2 million for benefits and $300,000 for social security. The budget also includes a 2.5 percent contractual salary increase for employees.
Officials said there isn’t much room for cuts, unless items like the annual fireworks or trash pickup are removed.
“Without cutting services, there’s not a heck of a lot that can be done,” First Selectman Christopher Bielik said.
Rodorigo said town officials need to push the Region 16 Board of Education to reduce its budget by 2 percent, pointing to surpluses in the school budget the past six years. Over at least the last four fiscal years, the region’s budget has finished with a surplus of over $1 million.
“Their budget … will go to referendum, if I have to collect the 200 signatures myself,” Rodorigo said.
Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin is expected to present a budget proposal that will keep spending flat. He is scheduled to present his budget to the school board on March 14.
Bielik said recent cuts in revenue come mostly from cuts in the state’s Education Cost Sharing grant, which is paid to municipalities to help cover education costs. He said the school board should make compensatory cuts in its budget rather passing the expense on the towns.
This fiscal year, the school board absorbed ECS cuts within its budget.
Finance board Chairman Marc Bronn wants the town budget to go to a vote before the school budget does in May. Last year, he said, an increase in the school budget was passed before the town’s budget, which left residents only the municipal budget “to beat up.”
Bronn said getting the town budget to voters first would keep pressure on the school board to keep spending in line.
“What it does is rally the people to go after the true culprit, which is the region, not us,” he said.
As for the town budget, the proposal includes about $47,000 more for fire and EMS services. The increase includes more money for fuel, training communications and equipment maintenance at Beacon Hose Company No. 1. The proposal also includes a $12,000 stipend for the chief position.
The chief is a volunteer position elected by Beacon Hose members. The position doesn’t receive a stipend currently, though it has been requested over the past few budget cycles.
Rodorigo said the town asks a volunteer to manage a roughly $320,000 budget and be responsible for all the equipment and personnel at Beacon Hose. He said there are elected officials in town that are paid $12,000 and don’t come close to the responsibility of the fire chief.
The fire department’s budget request sought $30,000 for a stipend. Bielik said $30,000 would be too much for a position that the selectmen have no control over or input in hiring. He said $12,000 is more in line with some elected officials.
“I think that that’s a fair compromise,” he said.
The spending plan would increase the salary for the tax collector positon $24,400 to $36,400 after voters last year approved changing that position and the town clerk from elected to hired positions.
The people in the position will remain through their terms, then the town would hire someone.
Bielik said the increase is in case Tax Collector Mary Anne Holloway chooses to go to full-time. He said Town Clerk Len Greene doesn’t plan on it.
Officials had some questions on whether the salary had to increase next fiscal year, though, and planned to look into it further.
The budget also increases funds for an economic development consultant $15,000 to $50,000 because the consultant was hired part-way through the current year.
Bronn called the economic development positon important because the town has to find ways to increase the town’s tax base.
The budget also includes $15,489 more for the police department. Out of that increase, $13,708 is for an increase in the resident state trooper program.