Petitions submitted for referendum

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NAUGATUCK — Petitions to force a second referendum on Naugatuck’s municipal and school budgets were dropped off at Town Hall Monday afternoon just under the deadline.

Resident John Heanue, who helped collect signatures, turned in the petitions. He said there were over 2,100 signatures on the 75 petitions he handed in to the borough.

About 1,300 verified signatures from registered voters in Naugatuck are needed in order to force a referendum. Borough officials have started the process of verifying the signatures.

“We thought there should be an automatic referendum. Other towns have it and we don’t. If we had that we wouldn’t have to petition,” Heanue said.

The proposed budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year, which started July 1, is $115.26 million. The spending plan is an increase of $2.3 million, or 2 percent, over the 2014-15 budget. The proposed school budget is $61.68 million, an increase of $770,651, or about 1.24 percent, from 2014-15. The proposed municipal budget is $53.6 million, an increase of about $1.5 million, or 2.9 percent.

The proposed budget increases the mill rate from 44.27 mills to 45.57 mills. The mill rate is the amount of taxes payable on the assessed value of a property. The median valued house in Naugatuck, which is assessed at $110,740, would see a $124 jump in real estate taxes, from $4,922 to $5,046.

The first budget proposal, a $115.8 million spending plan, was rejected at a referendum July 7. Borough officials reduced spending by nearly $525,000 following the July 7 vote.

Board of Finance Chairwoman Diane Scinto said there wasn’t many other places in the budget officials could responsibly make cuts.

“People want us to cut the budget but the referendums are adding to the budget. People are concerned with union contracts. Five of the six largest union contracts are in negotiations right now, so we can’t do anything. We are stuck with our insurance, we are stuck with our debt service, and we are stuck with our pensions,” Scinto said. “I’m truly at a loss to figure out where people would like us to cut.”

The municipal budget includes fixed increases of $400,000 in debt service, nearly $900,000 for insurance and about $180,000 in pension costs. The school board’s insurance cost is going up more than $1 million, which is higher than the overall school budget increase.

Once enough signatures are certified, the Board of Mayor and Burgesses has five days to meet and set a date for the referendum. The referendum date must be set no earlier than 22 days and no later than 28 days from the date of the meeting, per the charter.

At least 15 percent of registered voters need to vote in the referendum for the results to count, even if the budgets are voted down.

Heanue didn’t believe the borough made cuts in the right places, but did not have specific recommendations for what should be cut, adding that’s up to officials to decide.

Mayor Robert Mezzo said there “really are not any more areas to cut in the budget.”

“We’ll sit down, and I’m sure we’ll make some cuts without really starting to take away some services that mean a lot to this community,” he said. “There are no other areas to make any substantial cuts that would move the needle on the mill rate. We need to cut approximately $1.5 million to reduce one mill. Throughout this whole process, from people on the joint boards to the members of the public leading the referendum, there has been not one suggestion that would be realistic and would move the mill rate down.”

The Republican-American contributed to this article.