PROSPECT — Prospect’s 2012-13 budget passed by 22 votes following a heated discussion.
The $6.98 million municipal budget was approved by a vote of 143 to 121 during a town meeting Thursday night that saw a large turnout.
“This is a tremendous turnout. I thank you all for being here tonight,” moderator Robert Hiscox told the more than 250 residents who were gathered in Community School’s auditorium.
The budget represents a 1.1 percent or $79,309 increase over the current budget. How the budget will impact the town’s current 25.20 mills was not discussed. The budget only includes municipal expenses, and not for Region 16, which oversees Beacon Falls and Prospect schools. The Board of Education has approved a $37.3 million school budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year. The budget, which is going to a region meeting for a vote May 7, would increase Prospect’s net education cost $528,484 or 3.55 percent. The town’s current education cost is $14.9 million.
Mayor Robert Chatfield began the meeting by explaining the budget to residents.
The largest increase in the town’s spending plan is the budget for Commission on Aging, an increase of $44,281 over this year’s $163,205. The increase is primarily due to a new part-time staff position at the senior center, an increase in the activity account and gas for two minibuses.
The second largest increase in the budget is for lease purchases, an increase of $35,685 over this year’s $120,201. That includes $27,501 for a roadside mower and $70,618 for a pumper truck.
Other highlights include an increase of $14,850 in the volunteer fire department’s budget for fuel, training and new pager radios over this year’s $252,500, and an increase in insurance of $21,443 over this year’s $201,889.
After Chatfield went through the budget, the public was given their chance to speak.
The largest outcry came from residents of Regency at Prospect, a senior housing development for people 55 years old and older off of Scott Road.
During the last reevaluation, the value of homes in Prospect dropped on average around 7 percent. However, the values of some the homes in Regency rose by as much as 10 percent.
A large number of residents of Regency turned out at the public meeting to voice their concern about what they perceive as an unfair assessment of the value of their homes in respect to the decrease of every other home in Prospect.
“You can sense the animosity. The townspeople feel we are rich seniors with deep pockets,” Regency resident Joseph Bongiovanni said. “All we want is a level playing field.”
During the meeting, Bongiovanni told the Town Council and residents that he believes the town could do a better job on the budget.
He felt that the budget reflected how out of control government spending is in general.
Bongiovanni said that, since the grand list went down 5.9 percent, the town needed to completely redo its budget. He challenged the mayor and council to reduce the budget by 5.9 percent rather than increase it by 1.1 percent.
“We can send a message to neighboring towns, the state and even the federal government that we are a true conservative town with conservative values which takes its fiscal responsibility very seriously,” Bongiovanni said.
Ange Dagostino, a resident of the Regency, told Chatfield that he could not vote in favor of the budget. He explained, however, that it was not because of the mayor.
“You’re not on trial here. You do an excellent job. You could run anytime you want and you’ve got my support. It’s the budget process that’s on trial here,” Dagostino said.
Dagostino felt that the residents of Regency were not being treated fairly during this budget process.
“We do not have a just and fair budget for everybody in this town. I would think that Regency is part of this town,” Dagostino said.
Dagostino questioned whether there were troubles and inadequacies with the assessor’s office. He felt the system was antiquated and unprepared.
“You’re the head of the departments in this town, the buck stops with you,” Dagostino told Chatfield.
Regency resident Patricia Lee told Chatfield that while she thinks he does a great job, she has some concerns over the budget.
“What we’re asking for is equity. That’s all we’re asking for,” Lee said.
Regency resident Frank Conlon voiced concerns about the amount of industry in town. He felt that a broader industry base would help lessen the burden of taxes for the residents.
“We should do something about getting income. Have you any programs to draw in and create new industries to the town to help us off,” Conlon asked.
Chatfield said that the town has filled all but one of buildings in the industrial park and there are only a few empty buildings in town. He was hopeful that more business would come to town once the economy picked up.
“We don’t have the abilities that the bigger cities do, but we’re doing our best,” Chatfield said.
Town Council Chair Tom Galvin presented the audience with a budget comparison for Prospect, Woodbury, Beacon Falls, and Middlebury.
Though all of those towns have similar populations and similar industry, Prospect spends the least amount of tax dollars per resident, coming in at $739, he said. Middlebury spends the most, at $1,381, he said.
A motion was moved to vote on the budget by a show of hands. Some residents raised concerns that not everyone in the audience was from Prospect, since nobody checked identification.
Hiscox said that he believed that there wouldn’t be anybody who snuck into the building just to vote in Prospect’s budget meeting.
The audience agreed with that and, rather than lining up to present their identification during a paper ballot, they stood up to signify if they were for or against the budget.
After the vote was taken, not everybody was happy with the process.
Conlon felt that the vote was not legal since nobody’s identity was verified.
Dagostino was disappointed by the vote.
“The system is antiquated and the people at Regency had to suffer for it,” Dagostino said.