Public to have say on borough budget

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A public hearing on Naugatuck’s proposed $109.1 million 2012-13 budget will be held Monday at 6:30 p.m. at Naugatuck High School.

NAUGATUCK — Residents will get the chance Monday to sound off on the proposed borough budget for the year beginning July 1.

The proposal, which the Joint Boards of Finance and Mayor and Burgesses approved last week, calls for a $109.1 million budget, which would increase taxes by 3.7 percent, or $246 for a home valued at $200,000.

A public hearing will be held Monday at 6:30 p.m. at Naugatuck High School, 543 Rubber Ave. The joint boards are scheduled to adopt the budget Thursday night.

If the budget passes as proposed, the overall spending increase for the town and Board of Education combined would be nearly 3.36 percent, the largest in four years.

Mayor Robert Mezzo said he did not think anyone, himself included, was satisfied with the proposal at this point.

“The issues are: What can you responsibly cut that won’t put the borough in jeopardy for future years?” Mezzo said. “A municipal budget is a very different process than putting together a household budget or a business plan in private industry. When you pass mandates on federal and state levels, they ultimately trickle down to municipalities, and there’s certain things you cannot fail to do as a government.”

The proposal would increase spending for borough departments, not including the school board, by nearly 3.2 percent, to slightly more than $50 million. The school board’s appropriations would increase more than 3.5 percent, to more than $59 million.

The borough government budget would have decreased if not for increases in pension, debt service and water pollution control costs that amounted to $1.6 million, Mezzo said.

Pension costs increased $922,000, partly due to early police retirements that were part of an agreement with the union to place new hires in defined contribution plans similar to 401(k)s. That move is expected to begin saving the borough money in 2016.

Debt service increased $413,000 as a result of refinancing bond payments two years ago and increased payments for police cars, public works machines and school repair equipment, Mezzo said.

Allocations for the Water Pollution Control Authority increased $278,000 due to increased service fees and costs of negotiating with Veolia, the company that manages the wastewater treatment plant on Cherry Street, over profits.

Mezzo said the borough could not achieve a flat budget without using tactics that would hurt the borough financially in the future, such as asking for wage freezes at the expense of higher pension and insurance costs, failing to fund such obligatory costs or putting payments off.

“I don’t think I’ve been happy with the budget since I’ve been here, but I have a duty to look not simply at one budget year, but where can this community go in the long term to finally right the ship and turn around its economic fortunes.” Mezzo said.

Layoffs do not achieve much savings because the borough has to pay unemployment benefits, Mezzo said, adding that the borough could not cut so much that it would fail to staff necessary offices, pick up trash and plow the streets.

School board members grappling with the loss of $1.4 million in non-renewed grant funding contended their requested increase would have been much higher if not for the decision to redistribute students at Central Avenue Elementary School and turn the building into a preschool. At least 14 positions will be cut, including nine teachers. Prospect Street Preschool will close entirely in the fall. The school board and the Board of Mayor and Burgesses are also switching health insurance carriers for borough and school employees to defray rising insurance costs.

In addition, the school board will receive a $635,000 increase in state grant funding for next fiscal year if they submit a plan to the state showing they will use the money to improve test scores.

The joint boards proposed a similar tax increase before last year’s budget hearing, but after listening to hours of public criticism, they passed a budget that increased taxes 2.5 percent.

The Taxpayers in Revolt subsequently petitioned for a referendum, which did not mandate further cuts because it failed to attract 15 percent of registered voters, although the majority of those who did turn out voted for budget cuts.