Public speaks out on borough budget

Naugatuck resident Matthew Katra speaks on the borough’s proposed $119.95 million 2016-17 budget during a public hearing Monday at Naugatuck High School. –LUKE MARSHALL
Naugatuck resident Matthew Katra speaks on the borough’s proposed $119.95 million 2016-17 budget during a public hearing Monday at Naugatuck High School. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — Those who spoke on the borough’s proposed budget Monday night expressed frustrations with not only the increasing budget but areas they felt weren’t getting enough funding.

“I have four small kids in town and it’s tough to live here. It’s tough to make ends meet and it’s frustrating,” said resident Kevin Kuzma during a public hearing on the $119.95 million 2016-17 spending plan.

The proposed budget increases spending by $4.68 million, or 4 percent, over the current budget.

The proposed school budget is flat at $61.68 million, while the plan increases municipal spending $4.68 million, or 8.74 percent, to $58.26 million.

Under the proposed budget, the mill rate would increase 4.15 mills from 45.57 to 49.72. One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 of assessed value. Under a 49.72 mill rate, a home assessed at $150,000 will pay $7,458 in taxes, an increase of $622.

Kuzma said one of his main concerns is the increase in salaries in the police and fire department budgets.

“It’s not a birthright that everybody gets raises every year,” Kuzma said.

One the major increases in the proposed budget is $2.03 million more in debt services. The borough will begin paying back bonds taken out for the $81 million Naugatuck High School renovation project and future upgrades at the wastewater treatment plant.

Resident Craig Vishe was upset about the large impact the high school renovation project is having on the mill rate, saying it’s the increased taxes that is bringing the borough down.

“I’ve seen this town go from a thriving town to a depressed area,” Vishe said.

Resident Matthew Katra, the Republican registrar of voters, felt the proposed grant writer and the purchasing agent positions should be revenue-neutral. Currently, they are proposed as contractors with a salary of $50,000 each.

“The purchasing contractor and the grant writing contractor, I can see it bringing in some money. It sounds nice to have, but I do have concerns. Instead of a set $50,000 pay maybe they can get a cut of what grants they bring in so it is a true return on investment that we see,” Katra said.

Resident Richard Mavricz said the borough’s main costs stem from unfunded state mandates. He suggested the borough disregard and fight against them.

“You know where the real cost is. It’s not in the poor guy emptying garbage, which we got rid of, or the poor guy plowing the street. That’s not your cost,” Mavricz said. “If the state mandates it, give them the bird and say ‘no, we cannot do it anymore.’”

One federal mandate is costing the town when it comes to the 2016-17 budget.

The borough is dealing with a significant projected loss in revenue from the wastewater treatment plant.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency mandated upgrades be made to the plant that are intended to reduce pollution. The borough missed a deadline to make the upgrades and Veolia Water North America, the company that runs the plant, shutdown the incinerator, essentially shutting down plant operations, due to concerns of what could happen to the company if it did not comply with a federal mandate.

The shutdown means that Veolia isn’t paying rent to the borough since it is not operating the plant. The proposed 2016-17 budget includes no rent from Veolia.

Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess has encouraged residents to force a referendum on the budget to buy time to settle the issue. Rent received from Veolia is revenue that would be used to reduce the mill rate increase.

Some residents felt more should be spent on the Whittemore Library and the Naugatuck Senior Center.

“For the third year in a row the library is facing flat funding. I know some people here are going to look at me like I am crazy to ask for a budget increase on any given line item, but I’d like posit that the library is just as important as the police or fire department,” resident Patrick Scalisi said.

Kuzma said the programs at the senior center are vital to the seniors’ happiness and quality of life in the borough.

“They have contributed a lot to this town throughout their life and worked very hard. Give them a nice place to go hang out with their friends. Give them some free programs. Let there be things to do,” Kuzma said. “It’s hard out there for them because many of them are on fixed incomes. So if we could find a little money for the senior center that would be great.”

The Joint Boards of Finance and Mayor and Burgesses will adopt the budget and set the mill rate at a meeting Thursday.

Board of Finance Chairwoman Diane Scinto said Monday the board worked hard to craft the budget with the numbers it had available.

“We did not take anything lightly. We are all taxpayers also. The people that are sitting before you, we are a microcosm of the people that are in the town: some of us are employed, some of us are retired, some of us are unemployed. It affects all of us. We are volunteers,” Scinto said.