NAUGATUCK — About 30 people came out for a public hearing Monday night to discuss the borough’s revised nearly $115.3 million spending plan.
For many of the residents who spoke, borough officials didn’t trim enough from the budget that was rejected at a referendum last week.
“I know there’s a lot of hard work, time, and skull sweat that go into these things late into the evening. However, what you guys are doing doesn’t work. You follow the same process for all the years I have lived here in Naugatuck and every year the budget continues to grow and the ability of the citizens of Naugatuck to be able to pay this becomes harder and harder,” resident David O’Connor said.
The proposed $115.3 million budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year is an increase of about $2.3 million, or 2 percent, over the 2014-15 budget. The municipal budget proposal is nearly $53.6 million, an increase of about $1.5 million, or 2.9 percent. The Board of Education spending plan is $61.7 million, an increase of $795,651, or 1.3 percent.
The proposed budget increases the mill rate by 1.31 mills from 44.27 mills to 45.58, a 2.9 percent tax increase.
Voters rejected municipal and school budgets that totaled roughly $115.8 million at a referendum July 7. This plan would have increased the mill rate to 45.99 mills.
Following the referendum, the Joint Boards of Mayor and Burgesses and Board of Finance cut $499,492 from the budget.
O’Connor said many residents in the borough, including himself, are on fixed incomes and can not afford tax increases. He recommended the joint boards change its approach to the budget. He suggested officials set a mill rate before crafting the budget, and then build the budget to fit it.
“Unfortunately, the citizens of this borough are running out of money. So, at some point in time, it’s going to become extraordinarily difficult [to pay]. In fact, it has become extraordinarily difficult for many to afford the year over year over year increases on their tax bills,” O’Connor said.
Resident Carl Herb, who owns Cindy’s Grocers with his wife on May Street, said he has seen the impact of tax increases near his business and his home.
“Our neighborhood over there is truly devastated. There are vacant buildings, buildings in disrepair. I can’t see where this budget can help any of the homeowners that are there,” Herb said. “I walked around where I live on Park Avenue and I counted six empty homes. Six.”
Herb said if this trend continues the borough won’t get the same amount in taxes as it has been receiving.
“Pretty soon those tax revenues aren’t going to be coming in from those homes. So you are going to have to work on less money. A lot less money,” Herb said.
O’Connor told the joint boards that “bold actions” would be required to fix the budget.
“Seeing increases year over year that far exceed the cost of living increases and seeing year over year the difficulty of citizens to pay these increases, leads me to ask that you guys and the Board of Education consider some bold actions to change the way the budget is put together,” O’Connor said.
The joint boards will meet July 20 at 6:30 at Town Hall to review the spending plan and adopt a budget. After the budget is adopted, it can be forced to another referendum through petitions.
Mayor Robert Mezzo said there aren’t many places the board can look to make cuts in this budget without drastically reducing services.
In order to reduce the mill rate by 1 mill, $1.5 million has to be cut from the budget.
“We’re still working to see if we can lower it. There are just not a lot of places we can cut that wouldn’t result in drastic reductions of services or, quite frankly, be irresponsible in terms of budgeting,” Mezzo said. “If there were a lot of cuts to be made, we’ve already made them.”