Beacon Falls budget proposal keeps taxes flat

BEACON FALLS — Town officials have finished crafting a municipal budget proposal that increases spending by 5.5 percent, but would keep the tax rate flat.

The Board of Finance and Board of Selectmen have approved a nearly $7.2 million town spending plan for the 2019-20 fiscal year. The proposal increases town spending by $375,076. But the tax rate would stay at 35.9 mills, based on current revenue projections.

Board of Finance Chairman Thomas Pratt said the spending plan is a solid budget that makes improvements in town while not increasing taxes.

“I think the budget is going to deliver what the taxpayers want,” he said.

The Board of Finance will hold a hearing on the budget Thursday at 7 p.m. at Laurel Ledge Elementary School, 30 Highland Ave. The budget will go to a town meeting vote tentatively set for the first week of June, unless a referendum is forced through petitions.

“I’m excited about this budget,” First Selectman Christopher Bielik said. “Anytime you’re bringing in a budget that accomplishes what this budget is going to do and has no increase in taxes in it, I don’t see how the public can’t be excited about it.”

The accomplishments Bielik highlighted include investing more funds in road maintenance as well as a range of capital items.

How to go about fixing roads has been a focus for officials as they crafted the budget proposal. The proposed budget increases funding for pavement maintenance from $75,000 to $180,000 and the capital budget includes $80,000 for road maintenance. 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.

The proposed budget would spend $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. Voters approved buying the 1.5-acre property and house, which once belonged to Beacon Falls Rubber Shoe Co. President Tracy Lewis, in 2008 for $425,000. At the time, the plan was to build a community center and library on the property. Those plans have yet to come to fruition, and the house has fallen into disrepair over the years.

“It’s becoming a safety hazard,” Bielik said of the house.

Bielik said the “working proposal” is to remove any asbestos from the house, which may then be used by Beacon Hose Co. No. 1 to conduct a live burn training exercise. If the exercise moves forward, the town would then clean up what remains of the house.

The capital projects also include $50,400 for a down payment on a new ambulance for Beacon Hose Co. No. 1 and $38,500 to replace portable radios for the volunteer department. There’s also $18,450 to buy six body cameras and supporting equipment for police officers, and $14,400 to replace four laptops used in police cruisers that are obsolete.

Bielik said officials are being somewhat aggressive with capital projects under the proposal because they anticipate getting federal reimbursement for money spent due to last year’s tornado that struck town in the coming fiscal year. The federal funds will go into the unassigned general fund balance, when the town gets the reimbursement.

“It will essentially replenish everything that we’re spending this year,” he said.

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 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.