BEACON FALLS — Voters turned out in force for a town meeting last week and soundly rejected using surplus funds for four capital projects.
Officials sought approval to use $127,000 from the unassigned fund balance to pay for four capital items, including $43,000 for police and fire departments security upgrades, $30,000 for personal protection equipment for the fire department, $25,000 for new portable radios for the fire department, and $29,000 for phone system upgrades at Town Hall.
Voters overwhelmingly rejected using the funds by a vote of 113 to 30 at the Aug. 31 meeting.
The majority of people who attended the meeting were residents of Chatfield Farms, a private community for people 55 and older. Chatfield Farm residents saw their property assessments rise while most of the assessments around town went down during the last revaluation. This, combined with a drop in the grand list and increase in the budget, caused the property taxes on homes in Chatfield Farms to jump significantly higher than the rest of the town.
Throughout the meeting, Chatfield Farms residents, who mostly voted against using the money, voiced their concern that they were not being treated fairly by the town.
Chatfield Farms resident Hans Wenzl said after the meeting that the vote was largely in response to the rising property taxes.
“Our mill rate went up disproportionately. Our taxes when up $2,000 or $3,000. You have a bunch of pissed off people,” Wenzl said. “We are not opposed to the firemen or policemen. We love those guys. This is a protest vote.”
Residents also raised concerns about uncertain state aid for the town since the state legislature has yet to adopt a budget, saying the town should not be using money from the fund balance yet.
Resident Ed Bustin said after the meeting it would be better if the state and towns worked in concert.
“I wish they wouldn’t put a budget together until the state put a budget together. There is no sense in guessing how much money they are going to stick in your pocket,” Bustin said.
First Selectman Christopher Bielik said the town already earmarked the money from the unassigned fund balance to be spent on the capital items, which the town deems absolutely necessary.
Bielik added the town has gained a strong financial rating from outside agencies by paying for capital items this way, and since the money was already earmarked for a specific use, voting against it would have no impact on taxes.
“Defeating these bills tonight will have no impact on the existing mill rate or the tax structure of the town. It will impact the operation of the town,” Bielik said before the vote. “The budget line items have been leaned out to the greatest extent possible. We will be turning things off to try to pay for these bills.”
Bielik said the projects are vital for the town and won’t necessarily be stopped.
“They will be funded out of the operational line of the various departments that are responsible for paying for them. And it will have a devastating effect on the operations we require the departments to do,” Bielik said. “If we don’t approve them tonight, they are still things that need to be done.”
The town ended the last fiscal year with a $125,000 operating surplus and another $200,000 in additional revenue which went into the fund balance, Bielik said following the meeting.
The town’s policy has been to use those funds for one time capital expenses so those items won’t affect the tax rate.
The security upgrades were identified by a risk assessment team as being important for day-to-day operational security for municipal workers, Bielik said.
The fire equipment would get the department to a place where it can maintain what it has within its yearly operating budget, according to Beacon Hose Company No. 1 Chief Brian DeGeorge. He said more equipment is needed because of increases and changes in membership, as well as certain equipment going out of date.
The department’s radios are 15 years old and starting to fail more often, costing more for upkeep, DeGeorge said.
“We realize the situation that’s going on and why people are upset with the budget itself. We know it’s not directed at the fire department, but we’re just going to wait and see,” DeGeorge said.
Beacon Hose Company No. 1 spokesman Jeremy Rodorigo said the department now has to figure out which items it can absolutely do without and what impact not having them will have on firefighters.
“If they can wait, hopefully the money will come at another time. Maybe once the state budget is approved and the municipal aid is in place,” Rodorigo said.
“We are going to continue with a radio system that is not as reliable as it should be. We will make the best of it,” Rodrigo added.
After the vote, Bielik said the town will wait for the state budget to be finalized before possibly bringing the projects to a vote again.
The Republican-American contributed to this article.