By Andreas Yilma Citizen’s News
BEACON FALLS — The town’s 2021-23 municipal budget proposal increases spending and funds a substantial list of capital projects, but cuts the tax rate by 5.26 mills.
The Board of Finance on May 17 approved an $8.9 million municipal operating budget and a little over $700,000 worth of capital projects after nearly two dozen residents attended a hearing at the Beacon Falls Senior Center.
The spending plan will go to a public vote at a town meeting May 25 at 7 p.m. at the senior center, 57 North Main St.
The $8.9 million operating budget proposal is an increase of $976,127 or about 12.7%, from this fiscal year.
The proposal includes contractual increases, like 2.5% raises for town employees and an increase in healthcare, fuel, refuse collection and insurance.
The spending plan contains new positions including one new part time Land Use administrative assistant at a stipend of $15,600 for 15 hours per week and a full time assistant Public Works director at a salary of about $119,000 with benefits.
Several members of the public were critical of the new public works position including selectman Peter Betkoski.
Finance manager Natasha Nau said the new public works position would handle all of the administrative work to allow Road Foreman Robert Pruzinsky to do more operational work or boots on the ground.
David Rybinski said the town doesn’t need a position for that amount of money to ride around when the town can’t cover some public works related issues that it already has.
Former Planning and Zoning Chairman Kevin McDuffie said he knew it’s been brought up before about adding a seventh position to public works and added that he previously talked to public works employees. When it comes to snow removal they work continuously and get no rest, he added
“Everybody knows their shortened handed over there at Public Works. So I can’t see spending $119,000 on somebody that’s going to be sitting in the office opposed to another person on the ground and maybe a part time person that could do some of the office work,” McDuffie said.
Betkowski said he’s been opposed to the public works position for the last three workshops and added that he would vote against the budget if the position stays in.
“I shadowed these guys (Public Works employees) over and over. They need help,” Betkowski said. “We don’t need another pencil pusher.”
The budget proposal allocates $719,202 from the town’s unassigned fund balance, or surplus, for capital projects.
The capital projects include $285,000 to add to an existing fund dedicated to pay for replacing future fire and EMS vehicles.
The proposed capital projects also include $163,000 for a payment to replace a fire tanker and engine lease payment, $36,511 for a public works plow truck lease payment and $24,500 for a concrete ramp replacement for the senior center.
The proposal also uses $10,605 from the fund balance as revenue to balance the budget. As of last year, there is estimated to be about $3.6 million in the unassigned fund balance, 12% of which must be maintained for reserves according to Nau.
The municipal budget doesn’t include the school budget for Region 16, which is comprised of Beacon Falls and Prospect. Voters from both towns previously approved a $41.7 million 2022-23 school budget. Beacon Falls’ net education is $14.6 million, an increase of about $519,000 or 3.7% due enrollment increases.
The town’s total proposed budget is about $24.3 million, which is an increase of about $886,385, or 3.7%, from this fiscal year. Based on estimated revenues, the budget proposal cuts the tax rate 5 mills to 29.64 mills in 2022-23.
The assessment value, which is 70% of the market value, is what the town charges. The tax rate is the amount of taxes payable on the assessed value of property. One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 of assessed value. Under a 29.6 tax rate, property taxes on a home assessed at $100,000 would be approximately $2,960.
Rybinski said that even though the mill rate is going down, taxes are increasing.
“I believe that yes our taxes are going to go up on our homes,” Board of Finance member Thomas Pratt said. “The mill rate drops but our values of our homes have gone up as well.”
“I’m in agreement,” resident Thomas Slota said. “From the assessment, my taxes went up about 15% on my home and the mill rate is only going to drop that by 5% so it’s not a very equal adjustment for me at least.”
Board of Finance member Dalton Fennell said town officials are trying considering the harsh economic times.
“I think we’re doing really well though considering inflation is 8.5% and we’re half of that and we’re doing our best to keep it as little as possible,” Fennell said.
Selectman Michael Krenesky said on behalf of First Selectman Gerard Smith and he, they both fully support the proposed budget and hope the community will support it as well.
“We believe that it’s responsible,” Krenesky said. “We believe that it meets the needs of the community right now.”