Proposed Beacon Falls budget up 5.6 percent

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BEACON FALLS – The joint boards of finance and selectmen decided Tuesday night to take a budget representing a 1.2 mill increase, or 5.6 percent, to the public for discussion at Laurel Ledge Elementary next Tuesday.

The proposed budget, combined with an expected $104,000 increase from the Region 16 school board would nudge Beacon Fall’s mill rate up to 27 mills from its current mill rate 24.6, according to Selectman Michael Krenesky.

At this point, the boards have decided not to eliminate trash pickup or take any personnel actions. The board previously discussed these possibilities as a way to get the budget down to a 3 percent increase if the public demanded it.

“No one’s planning to lay off anybody,” Krenesky said. “It’s just overall bad management practice to go that route.”

Krenesky said his proposal to lay off five employees was meant simply to demonstrate what the town would have to do to get the budget down further and illustrate that the cost in terms of town services would be high.

Still, everything is still on the table in any discussions still going forward once the town hears what public has to say about it, Krenesky said.

“We would very much like to have this budget be accepted by the public,” he said.

One of the biggest remaining unknowns in the budget estimations is medical insurance for unionized town employees.

Under the town’s current insurance carrier, Blue Cross Blue Shield, the plan is estimated to go up 15 percent, but the town might be able to reduce that to 12 percent, according to Krenesky. However, if the town switches to Aetna, the cost would only go up three percent.

“We need to very closely look at that Aetna proposal,” Krenesky said.

Under the union contract, the town may switch insurance providers as long as it does not reduce benefits. Aetna representatives told the town that their plan was the same as the Blue Cross Blue Shield plan.

“We were told it’s apples to apples but we don’t have that detail to know that it is,” Krenesky said.

Although the boards plan to present the budget to include the 15 percent increase in medical insurance, they’re hoping to get a better deal.

“It’s crazy not to move to a lower cost insurance plan,” Krenesky said.

In addition to the budget increase, the town will have to deal with a $500,000 hole on the revenue side.
“The biggest thing in this whole budget is that revenues have gone down a mill. That’s what’s hurting the budget,” said First Selectman Susan Cable.

Cable said the decreased revenue is due to the economy and not the fault of any individual. Less money from the state and the conveyance tax the town charges on home sales has contributed to the decrease.

The board authorized the fire department to spend about $30,000 to purchase new tires for two fire trucks and pagers out of this year’s budget instead of rolling the costs over into next year, according to Krenesky.

The town was originally expecting about $65,000 in revenue from ambulance fees, but after authorizing those purchases and the cost of a recently hired second employee, the town will only receive about $8,000 from those funds.

Kreneksy said he had requested an account of the contingency balance to see if there is any money left in this year’s budget to purchase some other equipment which would the town would otherwise have to lease next year. For example, the town agreed to find about $60,000 for air packs for the fire department after the fire company won a grant to pay for most of the cost.

“It makes more sense to me to use that surplus cash to do it in this year,” Krenesky said.