Prospect budget passes without debate

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The Prospect town budget passed just in time for Easter.
The Prospect town budget passed just in time for Easter.

PROSPECT – While nearby towns were debating how to control budget increases late into the night, Prospect quietly passed a budget with a slight decrease over last year.

Taxpayers of Prospect unanimously passed a $6.9 million budget at a town meeting April 20. The 2011-2012 budget is $3,438 shy of last year’s budget.

Other towns, facing ballooning medical and pension costs coupled with loss of revenues from state and local sources are struggling to balance continuing town services against the concerns of taxpayers who say they can’t afford to pay a penny more.

Not in Prospect. About 40 people listened as Mayor Bob Chatfield went through the budget line by line. There were a few basic questions. Then, in the rich New England tradition, the budget was put to a vote.

“I think people understand these are tough times,” said Town Council Chair Tom Galvin.

He said the town meeting format saved a few thousand dollars that would otherwise have been spent on a referendum and gives citizens the flexibility to reduce the budget before voting. No one suggested any reductions.

Galvin said, Prospect’s budget has always been very frugal, so it never got out of control. He said, Chatfield’s long mayoral reign has lent stability and continuity to the town’s finances. He added, the lean budget reflects the conservative values of the town.

Chatfield agreed that his longevity as mayor is an advantage when it comes to budget season.

“I fully understand the operations of the town,” he said.

An increase in the Grand List will add $250,000 in tax revenue for next year’s budget, helping to lead to a decrease in the budget, according to Chatfield.

Another big reason Chatfield was able to hold the budget under wraps this year was that the town paid down a lot of its debt last year. Prospect paid off $95,000 in principal and $15,000 in interest.

The town government plans big expenses to be spread out over time to soften the impact, according to Galvin. For example, one of the biggest increases in next year’s budget was for the assessor’s office. The town must assess the value of each home every 10 years, according to state mandate, but Prospect split the bill over two years – $50,000 this year and $90,000 next year.

The biggest increase, like many towns, was benefits and pensions for town employees totaling about $38,800. Town employees also received a 2 percent raise.

Other increases in the budget include $28,500 for ice and snow removal, $10,000 for household hazardous waste and $7,300 for police.

The town reduced its solid waste budget by $31,000 because the costs for recycling have gone down and people are not buying as much and thus not producing as much waste as in previous years, according to Chatfield. Other reductions include $5,000 for road reconstruction.

The town was able to hold the line on town trucks, thanks in part to a locked-in price of $2.59 for diesel fuel. Town vehicles gobbled up 20,000 gallons of fuel this year, according to Chatfield.

The town budget will not affect the mill rate, which determines how much residents pay in taxes, according to Chatfield. He said he will wait until the school budget is finalized before setting the rate for next year. The proposed Region 16 budget would total $378,812 increase for Prospect. Residents of Prospect and Beacon Falls will vote on that budget at a May 3 referendum.

Voters at the town meeting said they were glad the town’s budget didn’t increase, but they were anxious to see what would happen with the school’s budget.

“Bob always does a wonderful budget and he’s very frugal,” said resident Carole Moschella.

She said she would hate to see cuts to the school, especially since the state is planning to cut half a million dollars from school transportation and special education.

State grants could also have a big impact on the mill rate as legislators in Hartford look for ways to save money. If the state comes through with their expected portion of revenues, Prospect should be in fine shape, Chatfield said. He said he hadn’t heard the latest figures from Hartford as of Thursday afternoon. He said the town’s revenues took a big hit last year.