Borough budget set for referendum

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NAUGATUCK — Borough residents will have a chance to voice their opinion on the municipal and school budget at the polls this week.

A referendum on the 2013-14 budget will take place from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday at the Naugatuck Historical Society, 195 Water St.

In May, the borough adopted a $110.9 million budget after shaving $500,000 from the proposal sent to a public hearing. The budget is an increase of $3.3 million or 3.08 percent over the current year’s budget.

The general government budget is $51.5 million, an increase of $1.9 million or 3.87 percent over the 2012-13 budget. The Board of Education budget is $59.4 million, an increase of $1.39 million or 2.4 percent over the 2012-13 budget.

The mill rate was set at 44.8 mills, which is an increase of 11.25 mills over the current mill rate of 33.65. This means a tax rate of $44.80 for every $1,000 of assessed value.

The significant increase in the mill rate was due to the recent revaluation.

The budget was forced to referendum after Alec Wargo, chairman of Taxpayers in Revolt, submitted petitions with about 2,000 signatures.

The group also forced a referendum on the budget two years ago. Although the majority of voters who cast their ballots at the time voted against the budget, the turnout did not meet the minimum requirement for the vote the count. 

For the referendum to be considered valid at least 15 percent of registered voters in the borough need to vote. If the turnout is less than 15 percent, the referendum is considered to have failed and the budget is adopted. As of Tuesday there were 17,485 registered voters in Naugatuck. 

Wargo encouraged residents to get out and vote.

“The most important thing is for everybody to get out and vote. That’s what we had a problem with last time,” Wargo said.

Wargo said those who will be unable to make it to the referendum on Tuesday can cast their vote via absentee ballot. The ballots may be picked up at the Town Hall.

Wargo added the group and the Republican Town Committee are organizing rides to the poll to make sure every registered voter who wants to vote has the ability to do so.

Anyone who needs a ride can call (203) 707-7833 to schedule a time to be transported to and from the poll. Volunteers will provide rides, Wargo said. 

“It’s challenging to get people out to vote during the summertime as many families are on vacation, but I trust that the outcry that I have heard from many residents regarding our mill rate will get them out,” Wargo said.

The ballot for the referendum will ask voters to vote on the municipal and school budgets separately. Those who vote against the budgets will choose between two answers “No – Too High” or “No – Too Low.” 

Although the municipal and school budgets are voted on separately, they are tied together, meaning one can’t be approved or rejected with out the other. The ballots are divided this way to give borough officials a better idea of what voters are thinking.

Both Mayor Robert Mezzo and Board of Finance Chairman Diane Scinto emphasized that the increase in the mill rate is primarily driven by the revaluation that occurred late last year.

“Remember that the actual mill rate increase without the revaluation is 0.93. That’s less than 1 mill,” Scinto said.

Mezzo said the average residential property value dropped approximately 26 percent.

“The biggest variance of this budget is the implementation of the first revaluation since the recession, which has impacted homeowners differently depending on the loss of equity in their properties,” Mezzo said.

Mezzo explained the referendum would not make much of a difference for the citizens whose property value did not decrease during the revaluation.

“Some residential homeowners will experience a larger increase in their property tax bills regardless of the referendum because of the revaluation,” Mezzo said.

Wargo said he feels that the residents are not able to afford the extra tax increase, regardless of the size.

“I don’t think the citizens are in a position to deal with that. They shouldn’t have to. The economy stinks. It’s not getting better,” Wargo said. “The town needs to slow down from its spending until the citizens have a chance to recover.”

If the budget is voted down, the Joint Boards of Mayor and Burgesses and Finance must hold another hearing and adopt another budget within 14 days. That budget will also be subject to referendum if at least 8 percent of borough voters sign another petition. Up to three referendums may be held.

Scinto said if the budget does get voted down during the referendum, the finance board will have to make hard cuts.

“I don’t know where the cuts are going to come from. They’re going to be hard cuts if we have to. There’s no where else to cut,” Scinto said.