Beacon Falls budget heads to vote

BEACON FALLS — All that’s left to do before the town has a municipal budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year is to get the blessing of voters.

Officials set a town meeting for June 5 at 7 p.m. at Woodland Regional High School, 135 Back Rimmon Road, to vote on the nearly $7.2 million proposed town budget. The proposal increases municipal spending by $375,076, or about 5.5 percent.

Although spending is going up, officials say the tax rate will stay flat at 35.9 mills, based on projected increases in revenue and a decrease in the town’s share of the education budget for Region 16. The tax rate will be set after the budget is adopted.

“We’re not cutting services to the bone to make this happen, we actually have an increase in spending on capital projects and within the budget that are going to keep moving the town forward,” said First Selectman Christopher J. Bielik following a brief and lightly-attended hearing on the budget May 23.

The budget proposal could be forced to a referendum through a petition process, which would require 200 signatures from registered voters turned in at least 24 hours before the meeting.

Board of Finance Chairman Thomas Pratt encouraged voters to come out and vote at the town meeting.

“We’ve listened to the voters. We’ve drawn a budget with no increase in the mill rate while offering improvements to the town,” Pratt said. “It’s something that the taxpayers wanted, and we’re here to deliver what they wanted.”

On top of town spending, officials also want to use $366,809 from the town’s excess unassigned general fund balance — a surplus the town carries above the 9.25 percent of the total operating budget kept in reserves — for capital projects.

The capital plan includes $80,000 for the abatement and demolition of the house and garage at the town-owned property at 35 Wolfe Ave., $50,400 for a down payment on a new ambulance for Beacon Hose Co. No. 1, $38,500 to replace portable radios for Beacon Hose, $18,450 to buy six body cameras and supporting equipment for police officers, and $14,400 to replace four obsolete laptops used in police cruisers.

There’s also $80,000 designated in the capital plan for road maintenance, which has been a priority for officials throughout the budget process. The proposed spending plan increases funding for pavement maintenance from $75,000 to $180,000, as well. These funds compliment some money the town has already set aside for road work, and a 10-year capital plan is in the works to address major projects.

“Just like every municipality, our roads need repair,” Pratt said.

Overall, the town is looking to do about $812,000 worth of capital projects and pursuing other funding options, like grants and the sewer fund, to pay for the items above what will be covered from the unassigned general fund balance.

“We’re trying our best to find other sources of revenue that don’t impact taxpayers,” Finance Manager Natasha Nau said.

As for the municipal spending plan, there’s the typical contractual increases — employee salaries are going up 2.5 percent, the cost of medical benefits is up 8 percent and the town’s pension costs are up 2 to 4 percent.

The budget proposal also increases the salaries for some elected positions, including the first selectman and two selectmen.

Under the proposal, the first selectman’s salary will increase from $48,000 to $55,000. Finance board members supported the increase with an eye on attracting more qualified candidates and lining up the salary with other first selectmen in similar towns.

The proposal also includes increasing the salaries for the two selectman positions from $12,000 to $13,500. Salary increases for elected officials would take effect after the November election.

The proposal also includes a plan to share a resident state trooper with Bethany to save money on the resident trooper program. Officials said the plan is done deal, but still has to be officially approved by both towns.

Sharing a resident state trooper would cut Beacon Falls’ cost of the program basically in half to $100,000, but overall police spending is increasing about $34,000 to $675,381.

The increase comes from, in part, an additional 20 hours per week for part-time patrol officers and an additional five hours per week for the administrative lieutenant position to cover when the resident state trooper is in Bethany. Also, the town under budgeted salaries for part-time patrol officers this fiscal year, and the 2019-20 budget proposal makes up for the shortage and pays for a 2.5 percent raise for officers.

The town budget doesn’t include school spending for Region 16, which is comprised of Beacon Falls and Prospect. Voters approved the roughly $40.73 million 2019-20 school budget earlier this month. The school budget keeps spending flat, but Beacon Falls’ net education cost decreased $158,782.