BEACON FALLS – The Board of Selectmen approved a $424,000 increase in the town budget, which will now go to a town hall vote.
Heading into Tuesday’s night public hearing, the proposed budget increase for the town was $868,756. Officials were able to nearly cut that figure in half.
The proposed town budget alone will raise the mill rate by 0.78 mills.
The biggest challenge to the town’s budget was shortfalls on the revenue side totaling about $528,000.
“Even if we came in with a zero increase, we’d still be $500,000 short,” said Board of Finance member Brian Ploss.
The finance board presented what they believed to be the worst case scenario. Words like ‘conservative’ and ‘realistic,’ were brought up with each line item.
“We don’t see how we can be optimistic,” Bielik said.
Losses were expected in reimbursement funds from several areas including ambulance fees, state rebates and grants.
“That’s a lot of ground to make up,” said Board of Finance Chair Chris Bielik, who was appointed as chair after the public hearing.
After reconsideration, the joint boards of finance and selectmen added $20,000 back into the expected revenue from the ambulance, which they had taken down to zero expecting all that money would be spend on a new day-time employee, and new emergency equipment. They also added $39,000 into the state rebate program for manufacturers machinery and equipment, which Gov.Dannel Malloy had taken out of the state’s budget. They also added $50,000 into the wastewater treatment fund.
After much debate, the board also added $200,000 in expected revenue from back taxes, which they hoped to secure with the addition of a full-time tax collector. The higher salary for the full-time tax collector would be partially offset by a decreased salary for the assistant tax collector. The board also discussed offering a tax amnesty month, where people could pay back taxes without the late fees, to encourage people to pay up. Taxpayers currently owe about $1.2 million on overdue real estate taxes alone.
Among contentious items for the public in the town budget was a $2 per hour raise for part-time police, who haven’t received a raise in three years. The raise would bring their pay to $23 per hour, still several dollars less than nearby towns.
Resident trouper Anthony Cipriano said without the raise, part-timers would jump ship, leaving full-time police officers to pick up the slack with overtime, for which they are paid $45 per hour.
Another line item several members of the public opposed was a $13,000 increase for the minibus, which takes senior citizens to doctors’ appointments and grocery shopping. This year, the minibus had already spent its budget by January.
“That line is woefully underfunded,” Bielik said.
The board later decided to reduce funding to the minibus back to current levels.
Members of the public also took exception to vehicle replacement for the fire department and public works totaling $100,000. Those departments had first asked to replace those vehicles four years ago, but the public said the budget was too high, so they were cut.
Now, those cars will have to hang on for another year. The boards decided to cut them at their meeting after the public hearing.
The police also plan to lease a new car to replace one with 120,000 miles on it. The car could generate revenue for the town if police use it to assist in other towns.
The biggest complaint from the public was an increase in union wages and medical insurance. Several taxpayers pointed out that they hadn’t received wage increases and years and demanded union concessions.
“I think it’s time that the town starts playing hardball,” David Scott said.
Sue Pavlik said she hadn’t gotten a raise since 2009 and paid a high deductible on her insurance.
“Automatic raises cannot be warranted any more,” she said.
First Selectman Susan Cable said the town had made requests for union concessions, but had not gotten a response.
“I’m publicly asking you to save jobs, you’d better sit down with us,” Cable said to union presidents in the audience.
During the joint board’s meeting after the public hearing, the boards agreed to offer unions a choice—either don’t take the scheduled pay increase or take 12 furlough days per year. The board also considered layoffs, but they would have to pay 50 percent of the employee’s salary for three years. Without the increase in wages, the town would save $35,000, a small dent in the overall increase.
“The big increases that are in this budget are not wages,” Bielik said.
Not all taxpayers were demanding more cuts. Some warned that drastic cuts could mean drastic increases in the future.
“When we knock down the budget to an unrealistic level, some day the ‘S’ is going to hit the fan,” Ben Capola said.
The one item which would make a big difference in the budget–eliminating trash pickup –was not touched. Cutting trash pick-up would save the town about $300,000.
In the end, the board was not happy with the cuts they made, but they hoped the taxpayers would be.
“We have cut deeply into services with what we’ve done tonight,” Bielik said.
The Board of Selectman voted 2-1 to hold a town meeting to vote on the budget. Selectman Michael Krenesky opposed the meeting in favor of a referendum. The meeting was scheduled for 7 p.m. April 27 at the firehouse.