Naugatuck budget increases spending, reduces tax rate

Budget breakdown

2017-18 budget: $120,436,078

2018-19 budget: $121,936,357

Increase: $1,500,279, 1.25 percent

2017-18 school budget (Included in overall budget): $61,683,651

2018-19 school budget (Included in overall budget): $62,000,000

School budget increase: $316,349, 0.51 percent

2018-19 tax rate: 48.35

2017-18 tax rate: 48.55

Decrease: 0.2 mills, 0.41 percent

What’s next: The budget could be forced to a referendum through petitions. The deadline is May 31 at 4 p.m. The budget will be adopted if a referendum isn’t forced.

 

NAUGATUCK — Spending and the tax rate are going in opposite directions under Naugatuck’s 2018-19 budget.

After making some adjustments, the Joint Boards of Finance and Mayor and Burgesses last week approved a nearly $121.94 million budget for the coming fiscal year. The budget increases spending by about $1.5 million, or roughly 1.25 percent, over the current budget.

Although spending is going up, the budget decreases the tax rate 0.2 mills to 48.35 mills due to an overall increase in revenue. A mill is $1 in taxes for every $1,000 of assessed property value. Under a 48.35 tax rate, a property assessed at $150,000 will pay $7,252.50 in taxes.

The budget can be forced to a referendum through petitions with signatures from at least 8 percent of electors. The deadline to submit petitions to Town Hall is 4 p.m. on May 31. If a referendum isn’t forced, the budget will be adopted.

“I think it’s a well-balanced budget that took into consideration all the department heads’ needs as well as all the input that we received at the public hearing to come to a fair and balanced budget,” Board of Finance Chairman Daniel Sheridan said.

The budget uses a little more than $3.1 million from the fund balance — about $1.7 million more than the current budget uses — as revenue to help offset the spending increase and a loss in state aid. However, the joint boards opted last week to not include $848,708 in additional state grants to be conservative, since the borough didn’t get all the state funding it was promised this fiscal year and had to make up for the loss. The $848,708 equates to 0.536 mills.

“The number could be changed. We might get it. We might not get it,” said Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess about the grants.

Sheridan said the money could be put into the fund balance, which sits at about 8 percent of the overall budget, if the borough does get the additional grant funds.

“It’s a win-win. If we don’t get it, no harm. If we do put it in (the budget) and we don’t get it, then there’s harm because we have to look for that money, right? If we get it, not only no harm, but we’re able to replenish, to a small extent, the fund balance,” he said.

The largest adjustment to the budget last week came in school funding. The joint boards approved a $62 million Board of Education budget, which increases school spending by $316,349, or 0.51 percent.

The joint boards previously backed a budget that would have keep school spending flat for a third straight year. Most of the school budget increase — $235,729 — will be covered by an increase in the borough’s Education Cost Sharing grant that was approved as part of the revised state budget this month.

“I think it’s good that they have supported (the increase) and that they have some level of confidence in what the money is going to be used for, and that (Superintendent Sharon Locke) articulated, at great lengths, as to the needs for that increase,” Board of Education Chair Dorothy Neth-Kunin said.

Residents and school officials pleaded with the joint boards to increase the school budget during a public hearing, saying keeping it flat would hurt services for students. Some joint boards members said comments made at the public hearing swayed their decision on the school budget, which was approved 16-2.

Finance board member Diane Scinto said she’s never seen a group of people so vocal in its support of the school budget when sports weren’t proposed to be cut.

“There was not talk about sports being cut, yet there was a room full of people and I think we need to listen to them,” Scinto said.

The joints boards also voted to restore a $1,800 cut to an elderly tax credit program that allows 18 eligible senior citizens to work in Town Hall in exchange for a credit on their property taxes. Earlier this year, the Board of Mayor and Burgesses voted to cut the credit by $100 to $400 per person and reduce the amount of time seniors work to equate for the cut in the credit. Several people expressed concerns about the cut during the public hearing.

While the tax rate is going down overall, residents could still see an increase in their car taxes.

The state capped the mill rate municipalities can apply to motor vehicles at 37 mills this fiscal year. Next fiscal year, that cap will increase 8 mills to 45 mills. The budget estimates the borough will raise an additional $1.86 million in car taxes under a 45 mill rate.

Overall, Hess said the budget is designed to improve the borough. He said a large portion of the spending increase is intended to increase revenue and property values over the long term, pointing to the purchase of an excavator and tool truck for the Department of Public Works as examples.

Hess said the equipment will allow the department to have two separate construction crews that can perform more work around Naugatuck rather than hiring outside contractors. That work will include building a road on a parcel of land along Elm Street that is owned by Lanxess, the successor of Chemtura Corp., to help pave the way for Hess’ “Port of Naugatuck” project. The project is planned to be an inland port and intermodal transportation hub.

“The whole budget is geared toward giving us the ability to increase revenue by utilizing our own forces to bring in more taxpayers,” Hess said.