Beacon Falls continues crafting budget

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BFTownHallBEACON FALLS — Town officials discussed salaries, a fire truck and unexpected expenses during a March 27 budget workshop.

After the workshop, the proposed town budget stood at $6.29 million, an increase of approximately $281,000 or 4.47 percent.

Financial Director Manny Gomes said even though the budget has an increase, the proposal would decrease the mill rate .1 percent due to a plan to refinance bonds, which will lead to lower interest payments. This number is only on the town’s budget, however, and does not take into consideration any increase in Region 16’s budget.

According to Gomes 2.9 percent of the increase is because of capitol projects.

Gomes said one of the items the town has to deal with is the fact the Depot Street Bridge project is $375,000 over budget.

“The impact on this year’s budget is, in July, we’re going to borrow that money,” Gomes said. “The impact on next year’s budget is strictly an interest payment. Because it’s in July the first principal payment will be in the 2014-15 fiscal year.”

Gomes said the error only came to light recently.

“Someone might say, ‘Why did it take so long for this to come up?’ Well, we were still paying bills in August,” Gomes said.

The town also plans to bond money for a new fire truck. Originally, the proposed budget included $550,000 to renovate the fire truck.

During the workshop, officials decided to remove the money from the proposed budget and are planning to include $700,000 for a new one in an upcoming bond package.

The truck, if the bond package is approved, will hold 500 gallons of water, come equipped with a 75-foot ladder and be the first truck out on an emergency call, Fire Chief Mike Pratt said.

Pratt also requested funds for new thermal imaging camera, carbon monoxide detectors and money to fix the roof.

Gomes said the town would be wise to try and put all of the expensive items it plans to bond, such as the money to pay the bridge project and the fire truck, into one loan.

“It’s important to understand that you can borrow $10 million or you can borrow $1 million, it costs the same for the financing costs. So we want to try and put all these things together so we don’t pay the financial advisor twice, we don’t pay bond council twice, we don’t pay for Moody’s [financial rating service] twice, which is $5,000 or $6,000 for a rating,” Gomes said. “So we want to do it all at once and try to get everything into the one issue.”

The proposal to make the first selectman position officially a full-time one and increase the salary to $68,400 was also discussed. If approved, the increase would not take effect until after the November elections.

First Selectman Gerard Smith said the proposal is not a new idea. Smith pointed out that, in the March minutes from two years ago, former First Selectman Susan Cable proposed the idea of increasing the salary 3 percent a year until it reached $60,000.

Smith said the increased salary would more accurately reflect the hours put in by the first selectman.

“You are the first selectman for the town of Beacon Falls and therefore you just have a job to do, and you lose your life. You have a 24 hour a day, seven day a week job,” Smith said. “There are no set hours for the job. Meetings happen all day long.”

When pressed by the Board of Finance to give an approximate number of hours a week he worked, Smith said it was close to 100 hours.

The proposal remains in the working budget.

The Board of Finance will hold another budget workshop Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Town Hall to continue working on the budget. As of this post, no decision was made as to whether the vote on the budget will be held at a town meeting or referendum or when a vote will be held.

After last week’s meeting, Smith encouraged residents to educate themselves on the budget before casting their vote.

“When you vote on the budget, vote on the facts. Before you vote, educate yourself on the facts, the issues, and the real numbers,” Smith said. “And attend meetings so you can be an informed voter.”