No referendum on borough budget this year

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NAUGATUCK — The borough budget for next fiscal year will take effect July 1 without a referendum.

No petitions for a referendum on the municipal or school budgets were filed by close of business Thursday, the deadline set by the borough charter, Borough Clerk Nancy DiMeo said.

The Joint Boards of Finance and Mayor and Burgesses adopted next fiscal year’s budget May 24. The budget will be nearly $108 million, resulting in a 1.9 percent spending increase and a 2.3 percent tax increase. The average borough homeowner will pay $112 more in property taxes, based on an average assessment of about $151,000 provided by the borough controller’s office.

The Taxpayers in Revolt led the petition drive for last year’s referendum, which failed to change the budget because turnout did not reach the required 15 percent. The group did not repeat its efforts this year.

Although the group did not circulate any petitions, Alec Wargo, the group’s chairman, said he was not happy with the tax and spending increases in next year’s budget.

“I’m not very enthusiastic about it, but you gotta have something to chase, and there’s not a big number for anybody to chase after,” Wargo said. “If we went through all the efforts and if we did in fact manage to get all the signatures, and got enough voters to turn out, what are we going to get? A quarter of a percent of a cut?”

Wargo said a few people asked him where to get petition forms after hearing the taxpayer group was not going to circulate them. He told them to get the forms from DiMeo, but DiMeo said nobody ended up requesting any.

The borough delayed sending out tax bills and filling some vacancies last year until the July 19 referendum was over. This year, everything can continue as planned, but Mayor Robert Mezzo said he was not completely satisfied with the budget.

“I think each and every member of the joint boards would like to see our revenues higher, our expenditures lower and an ability to maintain or even reduce the tax rate,” Mezzo said.

Increased pension, debt service and water pollution control costs, as well as the loss of $1.4 million in non-renewed federal grant funding for schools, were the driving forces behind this year’s increase. Police pension costs in particular will spike over the next few years due in part to an early retirement program, but will then decrease sharply as new hires are placed into defined contribution plans, under an agreement with the police union.

The borough and the school board are also changing employee health insurance plans and consolidating functions to save money, and the borough has reduced staff in the Public Works Department as it invests in automated waste collection, Mezzo said.

“Some of the structural changes that we made provide little benefit in the early years, but will provide a more sustainable government as we move forward, and under the current rules that we operate under, change is unfortunately a slow process,” Mezzo said.