Beacon Falls voters back town budget

BEACON FALLS — Voters overwhelmingly approved the 2019-20 town budget 76 to 22 June 5 at a town meeting.

The nearly $7.2 million budget increases municipal spending by $375,076 or about 5.5 percent. After the budget passed, the Board of Finance set the tax rate for the 2019-20 fiscal year at 35.9 mills, which keeps the tax rate flat despite spending going up because of projected revenue increases and a decrease in the town’s share of the education budget for Region 16.

“I think that the level of support for this budget that’s throughout town is a reflection of the way the vote came out tonight,” First Selectman Christopher J. Bielik said.

Bielik said the Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance and Finance Department should be proud of the work they did to craft the budget.

“Obviously, not everybody’s pleased with the budget, but it’s the majority that counts,” Board of Finance Chairman Thomas Pratt said. “Overall, I think the next year should be positive for the residents of the town of Beacon Falls.”

On top of the $7.2 million in town spending, officials plan 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 projects include $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 to replace a 13-year-old ambulance, and $18,450 to buy six body cameras and supporting equipment for police officers.

There’s also $80,000 designated in the capital plan for road maintenance. The budget increases funding for pavement maintenance from $75,000 to $180,000, as well.

Even though the tax rate is staying flat, Bielik said the town didn’t gut services to do keep it steady.

“We’re actually doing things around town,” he said. “People wanted to fix roads, we’ve got money in this budget to fix roads.”

Contractual increases played a role in the spending increase. 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 also increases the salaries for some elected positions, including the first selectman and two selectmen.

The first selectman’s salary will increase from $48,000 to $55,000. The salaries for the two selectman positions are going from $12,000 to $13,500. Salary increases for elected officials take effect after the November election.

Public safety expenses are also up in the budget.

Police spending is increasing about $34,000 to $675,381, despite a plan to share a resident state trooper with Bethany that would cut Beacon Falls’ cost of the resident state trooper program basically in half to $100,000.

The increase comes from, in part, additional hours for officers and the administrative lieutenant 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 covers the shortage and a salary increase for officers.

The fire marshal’s budget increased $21,925, or about 110 percent, and includes a $13,000 stipend for a new deputy fire marshal position.

The fire and EMS budget for Beacon Hose Co. No. 1 increased $21,000, or 7.2 percent, to $312,000. The increase includes $9,500 more for the service award program, which provides eligible members of the volunteer company a small monetary benefit based on a point system. The program is projected to cost $34,500 in the coming fiscal year.

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