Officials adopt $115.8M budget

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Petitions started to force referendum

NAUGATUCK — After scrutinizing spending department by department last week, borough officials adopted a $115.8 million budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year.

The proposed budget is an increase of $2.8 million, or 2.5 percent, over the current budget.

“I’m never satisfied with where the budget is at,” said Mayor Robert Mezzo following the May 14 meeting of the Joint Boards of Mayor and Burgesses and Board of Finance. “The problem is there aren’t very many places that we can responsibly cut without setting up future budgets for failure or eliminating small ticket items that provide some level of joy for the community in terms of the Christmas villages, fireworks, things of that nature, which at the end of the day really don’t amount to significant impact on the mill rate.”

The budget increases the mill rate from 44.27 mills to 45.99 mills. The mill rate is the amount of taxes payable on the assessed value of a property. One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 of assessed value. The median valued house in Naugatuck, which is assessed at $110,740, would see a $170 jump in real estate taxes, from $4,922 currently to $5,092 in fiscal year 2015-16, which begins July 1.

The proposed school budget is $62 million, an increase of $1.1 million, or 1.8 percent, over current education spending. The proposed municipal budget is $53.8 million, an increase of $1.7 million, or 3.3 percent, over the current budget.

Petitions have been started to force the school and municipal budgets to a referendum. About 1,300 signatures are needed to force the vote. Petitioners had two weeks, starting from May 14, to collect the signatures.

The budgets failed at two referendums last year.

As the joint boards started its meeting last week, Finance Board Chairperson Diane Scinto said they are people on the joint boards who support the budget and those who support a referendum. She asked those who support a referendum to make suggestions on where to cut spending.

Scinto added officials have limited discretion on where they can make cuts, including areas like summer programs, the Whittemore Memorial Library and the Board of Education.

“Think hard, think fast, because if you support a referendum you need to look at these items so we can move on and not tie up the community like we did last year,” Scinto said.

Ultimately, officials trimmed $223,995 from the proposed budget presented at a public hearing May 11.

The school budget increase was reduced by about $120,000, which included a $91,000 reduction in insurance and a $29,000 reduction in natural gas.

Municipal spending was reduced by about $103,000. The largest reduction made on the municipal side was reducing overtime for the fire department by $50,000, from $900,000 to $850,000.

Revenues were also increased a total of $320,000, based on current revenue collections.

Officials said their hands are tied with some of the largest expenses in the budget, like insurance, which are fixed costs.

Assistant Superintendent of Schools Christopher Montini pointed out that the school board’s insurance cost is going up $1.13 million, which is higher than the overall school budget increase.

Montini added that salaries in the school budget are going down by about $218,000. The proposed school budget cuts the equivalent of 21.5 full-time positions.

On the municipal side two police officer positions, two firefighter positions and four positions in public works aren’t being filled in 2015-16. Officials added that the number of municipal employees has dropped from 270 in 2011 to 214 in 2015.

Scinto said wages on the municipal side are going up only $33,000. But, she said, officials have to deal with fixed increases of $400,000 in debt service, nearly $900,000 for insurance and about $180,000 in pension costs.

“When you have those kinds of numbers that you can’t touch, there’s not much else in this budget that we can touch,” Scinto said.

The Republican-American contributed to this article.