Council approves budget to send to third vote

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TownSeal
PROSPECT — After reducing the proposed spending increase for a second time, the Town Council approved a $7.28 million budget to send to a third referendum.

The proposed 2013-14 spending plan is an increase of nearly $300,000 or 4.3 percent over the current budget. A town meeting on the budget will be held Thursday at 7 p.m. at Community School. A referendum on the budget will be held June 10 with voting at the firehouse from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The budget does not include education expenses for Region 16, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect. Region 16’s proposed $38.57 million budget will head to a referendum Thursday.

So far Prospect voters have rejected two town budget proposals at referendums. The original proposal of more than $7.4 million was forced to a referendum by a petition and failed by 66 votes. The next day the council reduced the increase by about $110,500. However, the slimmer budget was rejected by seven votes on May 20.

In response to the second rejection, the council last Wednesday night approved a net decrease of $41,209 in the budget to reach the roughly $72.8 million figure.

Mayor Robert Chatfield recommended $53,309 in budget reductions to the council.

Chatfield’s recommended reductions were spread across a variety of areas in the budget including $5,000 from the police officers line item, a total of $6,000 from the ice and snow budget and closing the recycling center for another week in the winter — making it five weeks total it be closed under the spending plan.

The $5,000 taken from the police officers account is on top of $7,500 already removed following the first failed referendum. Council member Patricia Geary questioned the impact from removing the additional $5,000.

Chatfield said the town will be able to keep the three shifts with two officers on the day and second shifts and one officer on third shift plus the resident state trooper.

Even with the reductions in the ice and snow budget, which come from labor, relief drivers and contractors, Chatfield said there is still more funding in those areas than is in the current budget.

Chatfield described the 2013-14 budget as a “climate change budget” in reference to the number of major storms that have hit the state in the past few years. The ice and snow budget was bulked up in response to the increase in storms over recent years. Chatfield said the reductions could come back to haunt the town but he is responding to what the voters said at the polls.

“The majority of the people voted no, and I’m adhering to what they mandated,” Chatfield.

The original budget increased a number of accounts, such as the ice and snow budget, the council traditionally has transferred money into from the general fund.

Council member Theresa Graveline said this was done to accurately reflect what it costs to run the town.

In order to avoid taking money from the general fund a new line item, transfer by council, was put in under the contingency account. The transfer by council line item was established to give the council an area to transfer money from when unforeseen large expenses arise.  

“I think this is the most misunderstood part of the budget that there is but I also believe it is a very important piece of the budget,” Graveline said.

Graveline said every year the council transfers money from the general fund because surprises happen. The transfer by council line item will give the council an area to draw money without touching the general fund, which in turn will keep the town’s bond rating and general fund healthy.

The first proposed budget included $75,000 for the transfer by council line item after the council added $50,000 onto Chatfield’s recommendation of $25,000. After the first budget failed, the line item was reduced to $13,000 and Chatfield suggested wiping it out entirely last week.

The council, however, felt strongly about retaining the funds.

“I really do feel strongly about leaving the contingency there,” Geary said.

The council voted to leave $10,000 for transfer by council instead of reducing the whole $13,000. In a show of support for the line item, the council moved $5,000 from the regular contingency line item to transfer by council. The total contingency account now stands at $22,000, which includes $7,000 for regular contingency.

Aside from holding onto funds for the transfer by council line item, the council voted to put $2,000 back into the Prospect Library’s book account. The account was cut by $2,500 after the first referendum.

As part of a larger motion, Geary wanted to see $500 restored to the mayor’s annual summer fun week for youth. The $500 was cut after the first budget was rejected leaving $4,500 for the annual week of youth activities.

Chatfield previously told the council, Graveline said, the fun week will be all right without the $500. The council did not move a motion to restore the funds.

The proposed budget includes 3 percent raises for all town employees with the exception of Assistant Public Works Director Gene McCarthy. Chatfield told the council McCarthy voluntarily returned his raise of about $2,600. The money was included in the latest reduction.

A proposed reimbursement for firefighters of $33,600 remains in the plan. Those funds would reimburse volunteer firefighters per call they respond to under certain guidelines.

For more detailed information on the budget, visit www.townofprospect.org.