Feeling the budget pinch

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Malloy’s plan hurts Beacon Falls and Prospect, helps Naugatuck

Gov. Dannel Malloy delivers his biennial budget address to a joint session of the Connecticut General Assembly at the Capital in Hartford Feb. 8. Malloy’s plan would mean less state aid for Beacon Falls and Prospect, but more for Naugatuck. –STEVEN VALENTI/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposed state budget has the majority of municipal leaders concerned about the future of their state aid.

“If the governor’s proposal stands as presented it will be devastating to the town of Beacon Falls,” Beacon Falls First Selectman Christopher Bielik said.

Earlier this month Malloy presented a two-year, $40.6 billion budget plan that shifts more state funding to 31 financially struggling towns and cities at the expense of the remaining 138 municipalities, largely through changes to Education Cost Sharing grants, the largest state subsidy to towns and cities.

The governor’s plan would also provide new grant funding designated for special education and require municipalities to contribute to the teachers’ pension fund, which is overseen by the state.

According to figures from the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities presented to Beacon Falls, the town would lose a net of $618,628 in state aid under the plan.

“That’s 10 percent of our annual municipal budget, which is a pretty severe deficit to try and make up,” Bielik said.

Prospect would be hit even harder. According to figures reported by the Connecticut Mirror, Prospect stands to lose a net of $1.73 million in state aid.

Prospect Mayor Robert Chatfield said municipalities across the state work to craft reliable budgets each year, while the state puts additional strain on them.

“Here we are, the small towns, on the front lines, passing our budgets, getting them down to the nickel,” Chatfield said. “They are putting additional responsibilities on us. Then we have to get up and defend our budget to our residents. The bottom line is I am not too happy.”

Bielik said if the governor’s proposed budget went through as is, Beacon Falls would have to put some necessary capital improvements, such as road upgrades and equipment purchases, on hold.

“We would have to try to streamline efficiencies in our operations. However, we’ve already been doing that for the past three years and we have taken a lot of positive action to make our budget as efficient as possible. So, on the expense side, there isn’t a lot we can do without cutting services to the town,” Bielik said.

Not every municipality comes out a loser in Malloy’s plan. Naugatuck is among the minority that would actually benefit from the governor’s proposal.

According to numbers provided to the borough by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, Naugatuck would net an additional $902,644 in state aid under Malloy’s plan.

“It’s hard for me to be critical of the governor’s budget because it helps Naugatuck,” Naugatuck Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said.

However, Hess isn’t holding out much hope that the plan will be adopted as proposed.

“It has to be noted that the governor’s budget is being opposed by the Republicans, a large contingent of Democrats, and about 130 out of 160 towns. So, in my opinion, it is unlikely that budget will be adopted as it is presented. Naugatuck is anticipating there will be cuts that we will have to deal with at a later portion in the budget process,” Hess said.

Bielik echoed Hess’ comments, saying the town sees Malloy’s proposed budget as just the beginning of the process and it will likely be changed by state legislators.

“We always look at the governor’s proposal as a starting point. It almost always never ends up being the final answer,” Bielik said. “Our challenge at the local level is to try and anticipate to the greatest degree possible what the final numbers will look like. We have to give ourselves some margin of error before going to public.”

Since Beacon Falls doesn’t have a charter dictating when the town’s budget must be prepared by, Bielik said the town budget can be presented to the public as late as May if the state hasn’t agreed on a plan.

“We have a much greater degree of flexibility. We can let the lay of the land shape itself a little bit easier before we are driven to a solution,” Bielik said.

In Prospect, as per the town’s Charter, Chatfield has to present the budget to the Town Council in March and to residents by April.

While the loss of state revenue is always in the back of his mind, Chatfield said he’s going to craft the budget that the town needs.

“My budget is my budget. I need what I need,” Chatfield said.

Hess said the borough and the Naugatuck Board of Education, which has put forth a school budget plan for 2017-18 that doesn’t increase spending, are working on minimizing expenses.

“The only major problem on the horizon that I can see relates to the state attempting to pass on to Naugatuck and other towns costs and problems they have created over a long period of time,” Hess said.

The Republican-American contributed to this article.