‘It’s just too much turmoil’: Beacon Falls shoots down budget

First Selectman Gerard Smith speaks at a town meeting alongside selectman Peter Betkoski for the 2022-23 budget proposal at Beacon Hose Co. No. 1 on Wednesday evening. Andreas Yilma Citizen’s News

By Andreas Yilma Citizen’s News

BEACON FALLS — More than 200 town residents at town meeting Wednesday overwhelmingly voted down the 2022-23 budget proposal.

Residents voted 184-32 against a $9.6 million budget proposal which includes $8.9 million for the town operating budget and $719,202 for nonrecurring capital projects/transfer schedule.

“It will go back to the board of finance for further reconstruction,” First Selectman Gerard Smith said during the town meeting.

Town officials initially scheduled the town meeting at the Beacon Falls senior center at 57 North Main St. but due to an overwhelming amount of residents that came, Smith moved the meeting next door to Beacon Hose Co. No. 1 firehouse.

The town’s 2022-23 municipal budget proposal increases spending and funds a substantial list of capital projects, but cuts the tax rate by 5.26 mills — though because of a revaluation of property, taxes for many residents would still increase.

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 health care, fuel, refuse collection and insurance.

“You look at the cost of gas, the cost of food, the loss in retirement savings, this is not the year to add on and bring it up,” Board of Finance Chairman James Carroll said after the town meeting. “There’s certain items in the budget we have to have but the ones we don’t absolutely have to have got to go in my opinion.”

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 residents in a past hearing were critical of the new public works position including selectman Peter Betkoski.

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 according to Finance manager Natasha Nau.

Board of Finance Chairman James Carroll said the hearing opened his eyes to residents’ thoughts on the budget.

“With the economy we’re in today and you pick up the newspaper and you see every town around us passing a budget at 2% and 3% and we’re at 12.5%,” Carroll said. “So some changes have to be made.”

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.

Residents previously said that even though the mill rate is expected to go down, taxes are increasing.

“Even though the mill rate is going down, with the increase in their assessments, they’re still facing a tax increase,” Carroll said.

A recent revaluation has increased the 2021 grand list by about 18% to about $600 million according to Nau.

Carroll said the whole country is in a tough economic time.

“There’s things in that budget that I like but I think they got to come out for this year only because it’s just not the right year to do it,” Carroll said. “It’s just too much turmoil.”