Beacon Falls pares down budget after failed referendum

Beacon Falls First Selectman Susan Cable looks over the budget during a joint meeting of the Boards of Finance and Selectmen April 12.
Beacon Falls First Selectman Susan Cable looks over the budget during a joint meeting of the Boards of Finance and Selectmen April 12..

BEACON FALLS The Joint Boards of Finance and Selectmen poured over each line in the budget late into Tuesday night after voters sent them back to the table following a May 2 referendum.

Presuming voters weren’t happy with the budget because they didn’t want a tax increase, board members looked for ways they could trim their already slim budget.

To get to a zero percent increase, First Selectman Susan Cable figured the boards would have to cut $324,000 from the budget. The budget that went to referendum carried a 0.6 mill increase when combined with the approved school budget. To get the budget down to a 0.3 mill increase, the boards would have to trim $162,000.

A mill is worth $1 in tax for every $1,000 of assessed home value. For a property assessed at $200,000, taxes would go up $60 with a 0.3 mill increase.

Although the boards previously discussed slicing off $300,000 by eliminating trash collection in town, they seemed reluctant to follow through with that step. The only people who supported the idea were those who already paid for private trash collection through condo associations. For the rest of the town, fees for private pickup would likely be higher than what they pay for it in taxes.

Board of Finance Chair Chris Bielik said he was afraid that if the boards cut important services, they would get a backlash from those who voted for the budget in the first go-around.

The budget only failed by 51 votes, 386 yes to 437 no.

Cable said the company the town uses for trash pickup agreed to cut the bill by $2,000 and would put together a proposal to offer cheaper disposal fees than the town currently pays to the Connecticut Resource and Recycling Authority (CRRA).

On the revenue side of the budget, Beacon Falls received a windfall in the form of a new $59,000 grant from the state to be raised through new state taxes in the recently passed state budget.

“We have to focus in on what we have,” Cable said.

Financial Director Manny Gomes warned that although the state budget promises some additional dollars to Beacon Falls, they might not all come through. Grants like the Manufacturer’s Machinery and Equipment reimbursement were originally taken out of the state budget, but later added back in.

“These things that they added back in—I would presume they would be the first things to go,” Gomes said.

Selectman Michael Krenesky said if the grants the state promised don’t come through, all towns in Connecticut will be in trouble.

“We can only go by what the governor says he’s going to give us,” Krenesky said.

Cable said the town has to count every dollar that it spends and receives.

“We had a little wiggle room before,” Cable said. “Those days are gone.”

Board of Finance member Bob Doiron expressed the sentiments of many board members when he said they’d already gone too far in paring down the budget.

“In the grand scheme of things, it’s a spit in the ocean,” Doiron said.

Finance board member Joe Dowdell and several others brought up the idea of selling the town’s back taxes to a private collection firm.

Cable said she’d researched the topic and Beacon Falls has 72 property leans, but 28 are on Beacon Heights and 10 on Beard’s property, all of which are foreclosed. To sell the delinquent tax liens, the property owners have to live in the homes, be at least two years behind on taxes, and owe over $5,000, Cable said. She said she’d look into the idea further, but it probably won’t affect next year’s budget.

Town officials will also turn to the unions for concessions.

Cable was scheduled to meet with the town’s unions Wednesday after press time to discuss concessions.

In addition to pay freezes or 12 furlough days, Cable said she was going to ask unions to give up longevity pay, the payment they receive in lieu of health care, and to switch medical providers to save money. The current budget includes a $20,000 increase in medical costs, but another plan would have no increase and similar benefits, Cable said.

Additionally, Cable said instead of giving part-time police officers a $3 raise, the town would phase the raise in over time and only give a $2 raise next year, saving $8,000 in the budget.

The Parks and Recreation Department could cut sports subsidies totaling $7,000, but board members were worried that such a cut would decimate programs.

The board agreed to cut the days the bulky waste transfer station is open from six times in the current budget to four times, saving about $9,000. This year, the station was only open once due to a shortfall in the budget. Cable also suggested adding fees for pick-up trucks and car loads of trash.

Cable brought up the possibility of reducing the tax abatement to seniors and firemen. The abatement costs the town about $60,000.

Selectman Michael Krenesky suggested paying off some of the town’s debts with the leftover funds in this year’s budget to reduce costs in the future.

However, it was not clear what, if any monies would be left this year.

As board members discussed the possible cuts, Bielik kept a running tally of how much they were saving. If all the proposed cuts, union concessions, and state grants came through, the board could shave nearly $133,000 from the budget. Without union concessions, they could take off $86,000, reducing the mill rate by one-tenth, to a 0.5 mill increase.

During the regular Board of Finance meeting that followed the special meeting of the joint boards, Cable spoke about the future of Beacon Fall’s Streetscape project, which has been nine years in the making. The total cost of the project is just shy of $1 million, most of which will come from $820,000 in state grants the town has already secured. However, Beacon Falls needs to come up with about $205,000 in the next year or risk losing state funding. Right now, Cable was unsure whether the town would be able to raise sufficient funds after some monies planned for that project have been eaten away over the years. If the town puts the project on hold and foregoes the state grants, Cable warned they would not only loose the economic benefits of the revitalization project, but it would be harder to secure more grant money in the future. Cable said the boards need to make a final decision on the matter by the end of the month.

The board agreed to take a few days to digest all the suggestions and meet again May 17 at 7:30 in Town Hall. They were looking at another budget vote in June.