Beacon Falls approves budget for referendum

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Beacon Falls First Selectman Gerard Smith speaks on the budget during a public hearing May 22. –LUKE MARSHALL
Beacon Falls First Selectman Gerard Smith speaks on the budget during a public hearing May 22. –LUKE MARSHALL

Editor’s note: The date of the budget referendum was changed to June 6 after this story was posted. The story has been updated to reflect the change.

BEACON FALLS — Following a public hearing last Wednesday, town officials settled on a proposed spending plan for the coming fiscal year to send to a referendum.

The proposed 2013-14 municipal budget is approximately $6.2 million, an increase of about $180,500 or 2.99 percent over the current budget.

A town meeting on the budget is Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Town Hall. The referendum will take place June 6 at Laurel Ledge Elementary School from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m.

The impact of the municipal budget to the town’s mill rate would be an increase of approximately 0.1 mills.

The budget does not include education expenses for Region 16, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect. Board of Finance Chairman Jim Huk pointed out the school budget is approximately 69 percent of the taxes Beacon Falls residents pay.
After hearing from the public, the Boards of Finance and Selectmen came together and reduced the budget increase by nearly $79,000 to reach the $6.2 million figure.

The largest deduction was $50,000 from the waste water treatment plant’s equipment replacement line item, bringing the line down to $108,000.

Huk said he felt fine with this since the plant had only used approximately $20,000 of that money in this year’s budget.
Not everyone agreed with the cut however. Selectman David Damico was concerned about upcoming upgrades to the plant and the possibility that the equipment might fail.

The boards also removed proposed increases for all elected officials.

The raises, which totaled $9,276, would have been given to the first selectman, the two selectmen, the registrars of voters, the tax collector, the town clerk and the town treasurer after the 2013 municipal election.

Members of both boards felt this was a wise move since the increases had drawn concerns from the public.

“I think it has been politicized much too much and I don’t want to spend another minute on this,” Board of Finance member Jack Levine said.

Huk said if the budget were to fail due to the raises it would be difficult to make cuts and have a new budget presented before tax bills went out.

“We don’t have time to go through another round of this,” Huk said.

The other deductions were a $9,700 savings in health care and $10,000 for a plow truck that the Smith said the town would be able to obtain with state aid.

During the public hearing Huk said that the Board of Finance looked at the actual amounts that departments have spent for the past few years when creating the budget.

Beacon Falls Library Assistant Librarian Sue Dowdell asks the Board of Finance not to remove the library study from the budget during a public hearing May 22. –LUKE MARSHALL
Beacon Falls Library Assistant Librarian Sue Dowdell asks the Board of Finance not to remove the library study from the budget during a public hearing May 22. –LUKE MARSHALL

“In other words we based this year’s budget estimate on actuals from this year. So we did, as much as possible, base our decisions on the facts,” Huk said. “If someone’s not using that money and they didn’t use it the year before, they’re probably not going to use it next year and, subsequently, we cut the money.”

Huk said there were certain services, including the town’s fireworks display on July 4, the concert series, and the public library study, that the Board of Finance left in the budget because it felt they were important to the town.

The library study encompasses the architectural drawings for the proposed new library on Wolfe Avenue, which the library staff needs in order to begin fundraising.

The study was also an issue that had a lot of public support behind it. Huk said the boards received 17 letters in support of the study from residents who could not attend the public hearing.

Members of the public present at the public hearing, including former First Selectman Susan Cable and Assistant Librarian Sue Dowdell, spoke in favor of the study.

Dowdell said the current library does not have enough space to fit the needs of residents.

“As you know people take up more space than books. We need space for tutors to meet with students and for students to meet with each other,” Dowdell said. “Right now when we have a tutor come in we have to set up a folding table blocking the large print books that our sight-impaired patrons are looking for.”