Beacon Falls finance board sends budget proposal to hearing

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By Elio Gugliotti, Editor

BEACON FALLS — The Board of Finance on May 4 approved a roughly $7.9 million municipal budget proposal for the 2021-22 fiscal year, but the discussion among officials last week focused on the plan to spend much more than usual on capital projects.

The proposed $7.9 million budget increases the municipal operating budget by about $474,000, or 6.3%, from this fiscal year.

On top of the day-to-day operational expenses, the proposed budget allocates nearly $1.4 million from the town’s unassigned fund balance, or surplus, for capital projects.

The nearly $1.4 million is more than three times what the town used from the fund balance this fiscal year for capital projects.

The most expensive proposed capital project is $450,000 for work at the public works garage and transfer station on Lopus Road. The work, which includes fixing ramps and building a canopy, is needed to meet state requirements so the town can renew its permit in a couple years.

The capital projects also include $280,000 dedicated for replacing fire vehicles at Beacon Hose Company No. 1, $100,000 for a new storage garage at the Pent Road Recreation Center, and $100,000 to pay for a property revaluation.

Some officials expressed concerns at the workshop May 4 that the budget uses too much from the fund balance at once, though everyone agreed the projects are all worthy of being done.

There is about $3.7 million in the unassigned fund balance. The town’s practice is to have at least 9.25% of the total budget in surplus, which means the town could allocate about $1.6 million before hitting the threshold.

Selectman Christopher Bielik said the nearly $1.4 million is more than the town has ever allocated from the surplus for capital projects in one year. He said using that much could hinder the town’s ability to take on future projects or absorb expenses in the event of an emergency.

Finance board Chairman Thomas Pratt said the board is very contentious about representing the taxpayers and the town, but has to make tough decision because some needed projects have been put off over the years. He said officials have known for years that work is needed at the transfer station but it hasn’t been addressed.

“Yes, we are probably spending more money than we want to spend, but at the same time we need to keep moving forward,” Pratt said.

First Selectman Gerard Smith said the town has had two strong financial years in a row and he expects that trend to continue, especially with rising property values and new home sales in town. If officials put off projects, he added they will end up costing more in the long run.

“It’s good now, the future looks better, and everything is just going to get more expensive,” Smith said.

There are the typical budget drivers in the spending plan, including 2.5% raises for town employees. The cost of benefits is going up $76,480 to about $1.2 million.

The budget proposal includes raises for elected officials. The first selectman salary is increasing from $55,000 to $62,000, while the salaries for the two selectmen and treasurer positions are going up $250 to $13,750. The proposed new salaries are prorated in the budget and won’t take effect until after the November election.

The salaries for the two registrars of voters is staying at $13,500, but the proposal includes paying them an additional $22 an hour for working elections and primaries.

The municipal budget doesn’t include the school budget for Region 16, which is comprised of Beacon Falls and Prospect. Voters approved a $40.9 million 2021-22 school budget last week. Beacon Falls’ net education cost decreased $622,234 to about $10.2 million under the school budget.

In total, the town’s proposed budget is about $23.9 million, which is an increase of about $1.2 million from this fiscal year. Officials anticipate the overall increase will be offset — plus some — by revenues. Based on estimated revenues, the budget proposal projects the tax rate will decrease 0.5 mills to 35.40 mills in 2021-22.

A hearing on the budget proposal is May 19 at 7 p.m. at the senior center, 57 North Main St. A town meeting to vote on the budget is set for May 26 at 7 p.m. at the senior center.