Joint boards send $109.1 million budget to hearing

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NAUGATUCK — After hours of scrutinizing the proposed budget one more time before a public hearing, the Joint Boards of Finance and Mayor and Burgesses backed a $109.1 million budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year.

“It’s a snapshot in time,” said Mayor Robert Mezzo about the budget following the joint boards meeting Monday night. “It’s going to the public and ultimately back to the joint boards before it’s final.”

The $109.1 million budget is an increase of roughly $3.55 million or 3.36 percent. It would increase the mill rate by 1.23 mills to 34.04, Controller Wayne McAllister said.

A mill is worth $1 in taxes for every $1,000 of assessed property.  So, a home assessed at $100,000 would pay $3,404 in taxes.

“We’ve held off increases for a number of years, that’s something that we can’t continue anymore,” Finance Board Chair Robert Butler said.

This year’s budget is about 2 percent or roughly $2.2 million higher than the 2008-09 budget.

The 2012-13 proposal will now go to a public hearing Monday at 6:30 p.m. at Naugatuck High School, 543 Rubber Ave., then back to the joint boards next Thursday for adoption.

The joint boards supported the $59 million Board of Education budget as presented, 14 to 4, Monday night. The school budget represents a $2 million or 3.54 percent increase over this year’s budget.

The school board started working with borough officials on its budget early this year. A special meeting of the tri-boards — the school board, Finance Board, and Board of Mayor and Burgesses — was held in late March at which school officials discussed the budgetary issues they were facing and presented a preliminary budget at the time that carried a 9.4 percent increase.

“There was a cooperative effort and that’s not something we’ve ever seen done before and I appreciate it,” Deputy Mayor Tamath Rossi said.

The school board took multiple measures to reduce the increase including closing Central Avenue Elementary School and the Prospect Street Preschool building next school year. The preschool programs will move into the Central Avenue building. The school board also reduced its increase by switching health care providers from Cigna to Aetna and cutting a proposed new program to provide tablets to freshman and sophomores.

The proposed municipal budget is $50.1 million, an increase of about $1.5 million. Three areas account for the increase on the municipal side.

The health and wellness budget is set to increase by $284,000, of that amount $278,000 is an increase in service and legal fees for Veolia, the company that runs the borough’s wastewater treatment plant.

The debt service budget is increasing by $412,000 due to existing and new leases. The largest part of the increase, $243,000, is a lease payment for a new communication system for the police department.

Butler explained the borough is mandated to change the communication system.

Naugatuck’s pension expenses are set to increase by $922,000. The increase is due in part to several police officers accepting an early retirement program and a change to a defined benefit retirement plan from a defined contribution plan for six out of the seven borough unions, officials explained. The change is expected to bring savings to the borough in the long run but there are some upfront increases before those savings are realized.

The remaining portions of the municipal budget combined had a slight net decrease.

As the budget moves to a public hearing, it remains open to change. The joint boards approved several items in the budget as is Monday night as “placeholders” in the budget. Officials had questions on several areas of the budget and the impact of removing some items. Mezzo said in the days leading up to adoption of the budget officials will find the answers to those questions.

Among the questions brought up Monday was how the borough could use its increase in the Education Cost Sharing grant, which is a state grant for school expenses.

The borough’s ECS grant will increase $635,000, which is currently listed under revenues in the budget. The increase was included in the state’s education reform bill, which names 30 school districts as “alliance districts.”

Naugatuck is one of the alliance districts and under the bill must offer a proposal to the state on how it will use the funds to improve student achievement, officials said.

Details regarding how the funds can be used were unclear Monday night.

“There are a lot of details that haven’t been defined,” Superintendent of Schools John Tindall-Gibson told the joint boards.

Tindall-Gibson said there could be a window to use some of the money to pay for existing programs and there could be potentially new costs for the school district.

“I anticipate we’ll be able to use some of the money to supplant,” he said. “But, I don’t know how much.”