Council advances budget to town meeting

PROSPECT — The town’s budget proposal for the 2019-20 fiscal year is now in the hands of the voters.

The proposed budget is roughly $9.1 million, which increases town spending by $483,355 over this fiscal year’s budget. The spending plan will be voted on at a town meeting on May 2 at 7 p.m. at the Prospect Community Center on Center Street. The method of voting will be paper ballot.

An April 11 hearing on the budget proposal drew a small crowd of about 20 people, and public comment was minimal.

The drivers behind the proposed increase include a 2.75 percent wage increase for town employees and a projected spike in the cost of employee benefits.

The proposal includes an 8 percent increase in the cost of benefits, which would go up $61,686 to $824,971. Officials haven’t received the final figures for benefits yet, but were told to prepare for an 8 percent increase.

“If there is a reduction, at the town meeting we can cut line items,” Mayor Robert Chatfield said.

One of the largest increases in the spending plan is for the Prospect Police Department.

The department’s budget increases $134,673, or 13.5 percent, to $1.12 million, under the proposal. The increase includes an additional $11,000 for the resident state trooper program and nearly $125,000 more for officer salaries to add one more patrol officer on duty each day.

The Prospect Volunteer Fire Department’s proposed budget is going up $19,303. The proposal includes $5,000 to make improvements at the firehouse and funds to buy six new self-contained breathing apparatus masks with built-in thermal imaging cameras. The new masks would allow firefighters to use thermal imaging to see in a room that is filled with smoke.

A new expense this year is an estimated $70,000 to pay for disposing of recyclables. Municipalities don’t have a disposal fee or receive a reimbursement now for recyclables, but that is expected to change because China, which was the destination for much of the recyclables, has largely stopped accepting American recyclable material.

Town Council Chairman Jeff Slapikas said the council worked in a bipartisan manner to craft the best possible budget for the town.

“I believe this is a very tight budget for what we have to work with,” Slapikas said. “I think we worked together as a whole. There was no party line separation.”

Town Council member Theresa Graveline recommended the budget be voted on by paper ballot instead of a show of hands. She said she has heard from residents that are afraid to raise their hand in opposition to the budget. The paper ballot would cost a maximum of $800, she said.

The council decided on the method of voting during a special meeting on Monday.

The town’s budget doesn’t include school spending for Region 16, which oversees public schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect. The proposed $40.73 million school budget, which is set to be voted on at a May 6 district meeting, keeps spending flat. But, Prospect’s net education cost is estimated to increase about $560,000 based on projected cuts in state funding and an increase in the percentage of students from Prospect.

The town is projected to lose more than $500,000 in state funding overall under Gov. Ned Lamont’s proposed two-year state budget, according to Chatfield.

Chatfield said it’s too early to guess what the town’s tax rate in mills is going to be for the upcoming fiscal year.

“I can’t guess the mill rate. Towns are not safe while the legislature is in session. They try and pull things at the last minute. We don’t know all of our revenue,” Chatfield said.