Prospect budget proposal ready for hearing

PROSPECT — If not for increases in areas related to salaries and insurance, the town’s 2018-19 municipal budget proposal would have decreased spending slightly.

Following a series of workshops, the Town Council reached a consensus on a roughly $8.64 million town budget proposal to send to a public hearing. The proposal is an increase of $191,584, or about 2.2 percent, over current municipal spending. The town budget doesn’t include spending for the Region 16 school district, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect.

“I think the budget is pretty tight. I think the council worked good together to try to get it that way,” said council Chairman Jeffrey Slapikas following a budget workshop Monday night.

According to figures presented Monday night, the increases in salary, Social Security costs and insurance total $212,478. Other areas of the budget combined decreased.

Slapikas, who is in his first term as chairman, said when he took over the position his goal was to not have any increases in the budget aside from areas that were out of the council’s control, like salaries and insurance. He said Mayor Robert Chatfield presented a great budget, and Chatfield and the council did a good job of finding areas to reduce the budget.

The proposal is $33,580 less than the budget Chatfield first presented in early March. The budget will now go to a public hearing on April 17 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.

“I think we’re giving the town a nice, tight budget, and I think it’s well worth accepting and approving on the first vote,” Slapikas said.

The spending increase may go down further. The proposal includes a 5 percent increase for health insurance as officials await word from the state on exactly how much it will go up.

The town gets is healthcare coverage through the Connecticut Partnership Plan, which covers state employees and dozens of municipal entities.

Chatfield said the town was told to plan for a 5 percent increase. It’s possible it will come under that. If the town knows the final cost prior to the public hearing or the vote on the budget in May, and it’s less than 5 percent, the budget increase can be reduced.

While the council made a variety of reductions in the budget Monday night, some council members felt the reductions could have gone further.

Democrat council members Carla Erickson-Perugini and Theresa Cocchiola-Graveline pushed for cuts to be made in maintenance and supplies for town trucks and in the budget for ice and snow removal.

Budget documents show that the town didn’t spend the full budgeted amount last fiscal year when it came to maintenance and supplies for ice and snow removal, which are both budgeted for $70,000 under the proposal. In 2015-16, the maintenance budget went over while the supplies came in under, according to the documents.

The documents showed that the town went over budget for maintenance and supplies under the town trucks budget the past couple of years.

“I think all the numbers are pretty close to what they are,” said Slapikas in reference to the town trucks budget.

Erickson-Perugini said she agreed based on the budget documents, but that invoices supplied to her by the mayor and audits from the past couple years show that those areas have come in under budget.

“I don’t know what the answer is,” she said.

Cocchiola-Graveline said it’s difficult to get a true grasp of what was spent. She said the council, which has the ability to put money where it’s needed after a budget is adopted, could reduce the accounts and move money if necessary.

Chatfield said the budgeted amount is what it takes to get the job done, adding he wouldn’t put money in the budget if he didn’t feel it was necessary. He said the expenses can fluctuate based on how bad the weather is during winter.

Motions made by Erickson-Perugini and Cocchiola-Graveline to reduce some of the accounts failed with 3-3 votes. The votes fell along party lines as the three Democrats present favored the reductions and the three Republicans on hand voted against them. Three council members were absent.

After the public hearing next week, the council will hold a budget workshop at 5:30 p.m. April 18 at Town Hall to make any final changes. The budget is scheduled to go to a vote at a town meeting on May 2.