Prospect budget increase climbs to 5.13%

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PROSPECT — The Town Council has adopted a 2010-2011 budget that tacks another $9,500 onto Mayor Bob Chatfield’s original, recommended $327,000 increase, bringing the town’s overall budget increase from 2009-2010 to about $337,000, or 5.13 percent.

About 20 residents attended a public hearing Monday night to hear Chatfield explain the increase and pose their own questions. The hearing was noncontroversial; only a few questions were asked, and they were addressed quickly.

“There are no new employees in this budget. There are no new programs in this budget. There are no raises for elected officials; elected officials’ salaries have been frozen for six, seven, eight years,” Chatfield said.

The increase is the result of a 2 percent pay raise for all non-elected town employees, as well as some large increases for the volunteer fire department and the assessor and bumps in the snow and ice removal, social security and employee benefits accounts.

Most of a $38,000 increase to the assessor’s budget is being put aside to offset the cost of next year’s property revaluation, Chatfield said. That process, which will involve physical walkthroughs of town properties, is projected to cost between $175,000 and $185,000. The town already took a one-year extension from the state on its property revaluation, which would have been due this year.

A $47,000 increase for the fire department will cover the costs of outfitting an influx of new members and an increase in medical calls.

“The majority of that increase is, for the first time—the department has over 70 members—we took in 15 new members last year, and they have to be outfitted with turnout gear,” Chatfield said. “Turnout gear is $2,500 plus; that’s for the coat, hat, gloves, boots and the Nomex hood, plus the helmet, which are mandated. Mandated, mandated, mandated. Between the fire and police, there are more mandated safety things for them than there are for the oil truck that can park in front of your house, on the corner, put a chalk under the wheel with its four-way flashers on and drag the hose off the road.”

There is also a $20,000 increase to the social security account; a $110,000 increase to employee benefits, most of which will cover medical insurance; an extra $9,000 to the recreation department for programming, and smaller increases in most other departments to cover the 2 percent raises and miscellaneous new costs.

The ice and snow removal account will also increase, by about $30,000, to $524,000.

“You don’t have to be an Einstein, and I’m not saying that to insult anybody, to figure out that when you go down to Waterbury, at their green, which is at 278 feet, and you come up to Prospect, our green is 950 feet,” Chatfield said. “The higher up you are, the more snow you get. This is the one of the accounts that we transfer into quite frequently, and so this is why this account increases, and I know it’s hard to think or remember because one day this week it’s going to be 80 degrees, but please remember your [winter] weather … and I can also remember Easter Sundays where we’ve had a snowstorm.”

Chatfield didn’t make a prediction of how the mill rate might change in the coming fiscal year but noted that much of the budget increase would be offset by a projected increase in revenues; the town’s grand list grew by almost $14 million this year.

“I’m not going to make a prediction now on what the mill rate may or may not be because the state usually gives us about $500,000 in grants from the state budget,” he said. “So until that’s settled, keep in mind now we’re still waiting for last year’s state budget to come in, never mind this year’s state budget.”

Town Council Chairman Tom Galvin implored residents to keep a long-term timeframe in mind when considering the budget increase before an April 20 town vote.

“[The budget] is going up $336,000, but if we remember last year, it was down $233,000 from the year before,” he said. “So if we’re looking back over two years, this budget is actually $135,000 more than it was two years ago. So Bob runs a fairly frugal shop with a lot of people’s help … so I wouldn’t look at the percentages. You can’t spend percentages.”

A town meeting is scheduled for April 20 at 7 p.m. in the Community School gymnasium.

“Many of us are looking forward to that rich New England tradition [of a town vote], and we hope to see many of you there,” Galvin said.