Referendum set for Prospect budget

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ProspectBushPROSPECT — As the town prepares for a referendum on the budget officials encouraged residents to learn about the budget before voting.

The referendum, which was forced by a petition started by the Democratic Town Committee, will be held Monday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the firehouse on New Haven Road.

Mayor Robert Chatfield and Town Council Chairman Tom Galvin both said before the vote takes place residents should look to the town website, www.townofprospect.org, and Town Hall for information on the budget.

“Go on to the town webpage, and on that webpage you can find copy of the budget, the revenue, fact information book, salary survey for towns with a population from 5,000 to 9,999, and a piece on the fire department and how they are keeping volunteers,” Chatfield said.

The referendum was set following a town meeting last week on the proposed $7.4 million 2013-14 town budget. The proposal is an increase of approximately $451,000 or 6.5 percent over the current budget. The proposed budget doesn’t include education expenses for Region 16, which oversees schools in Prospect and Beacon Falls.

Major cost-driving factors in the budget include health insurance, police department costs and a proposed reimbursement for firefighters.

Under the proposal, medical benefits would increase by $80,000, or 14.8 percent, to $620,000. The police department shows increases in the resident trooper program, which would increase by $5,721 to $111,680, and in officers, an increase of $53,440 to $498,000.

There is a new budget item for volunteer firefighters’ expenses at $33,600. Those funds would reimburse volunteer firefighters per call.

During the public hearing on the budget earlier this month, Assistant Fire Chief Bill Lauber said he has seen a dip in the number of volunteer firefighters, so the department started offering $7 reimbursements to those volunteers who respond to calls. Lauber said the reimbursement is for fuel since the volunteers are using their personal vehicles.

Chatfield said that Prospect is one of the last towns in the area to implement this practice.

Chatfield explained the budget increase is also driven by increasing line items the town often has to transfer money into from its contingency account throughout the year.

Those line items include heating for the 11 municipal buildings, town vehicle maintenance and snow and ice removal.

The proposed budget also includes a new $75,000 line item under the contingency category called Transfer by Council. This line item would be the first account the Town Council transfers funds from in the case of a shortage.

Transferring from this new line item rather than from the town’s general fund, which is currently where the money for transfers comes from, will help rebuild the town’s fund balance, according to Chatfield.

Galvin said, while the town is crafting the budget, he likes when the residents come out to voice there opinions and participate. Galvin felt there could have been more participation this year during the budget workshops, but encouraged residents to read the materials on the town’s website before voting.

“Everybody wishes the budget was lower, but if they understand why the budget has increased they will be better equipped to make a decision,” Galvin said.

The budget was originally slated to be voted on at last week’s town meeting. However, the petition secured enough signatures to force the referendum.

Democratic Town Committee and Town Council member Michael Scaviola said, in an interview after the petition was filed, the petition was started because the committee felt it was unfair to ask people to vote on the budget while surrounded by town employees, such as members of the public works and police departments, whose budget they might be cutting if they object to the proposed budget.

“That is not a fair way to vote. There’s a reason people have a right to vote without other people knowing your vote,” Scaviola said.

Galvin said the last time the town had a referendum on the budget was three years ago.

Chatfield urged residents to contact Town Hall and review the budget online if they have any questions and to get out and vote.

“I urge everybody in town to go out and cast their vote,” Chatfield said.

A new episode of Town Upon the Hill, a local-access television, will air on Sunday.

Chatfield said the show will feature himself, Galvin and Town Council member Theresa Graveline discussing the proposed budget.

The show, which is approximately 40 minutes long, will air on channel 96 in Prospect beginning at 10 a.m. Sunday. It will loop until midday Monday, Chatfield said.