Residents call for no tax increase

From left, Naugatuck Controller Wayne McAllister, Finance Board Chair Robert Butler, and Mayor Robert Mezzo listen during a public hearing Monday night on the proposed $109 million budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year at Naugatuck High School. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — Approximately 50 residents came out to a public hearing Monday night to voice their opinion on the borough’s proposed 2012-13 budget.

The proposed budget is approximately $109 million, which is about a $3.5 million or 3.36 percent increase over the current year’s budget.

The budget consists of approximately $59 million for the Board of Education and approximately $50 million for the municipal government. The proposal would raise residents’ taxes 3.7 percent, from a mill rate of 32.81 to a mill rate of 34.04.

Many of the residents that spoke did so to voice their opposition to the increase and ask the joint boards to work to keep the budget flat.

Diane McManus said she will be unable to afford to live in Naugatuck if the taxes go up. She explained she’s a single mother with two older children who have moved back in with her due to the bad economical times.

“I have not gotten a raise from my job in over two years. Not one penny. I can not afford my taxes going up any more, not matter how slight,” McManus said.

McManus said she understood the town needed to pay for services such as the police and fire departments. She explained that she does not want those departments to have to suffer, and wants them to have the best equipment. However, she is also worried that Naugatuck does not have the business tax base to support itself.

“We have to get some business in Naugatuck. I’ve been living here for over 20 years and all they have is pizza parlors, bars, and hair salons. That’s it.”

Charles Goldstein felt the town should be tougher in its negotiations with the unions.

“I’ve seen fire employees, and they deserve their money, but a man can retire at 50 and receive a $75,000 pension. This is a small town, were not talking about Bridgeport or New Haven or New York City,” Goldstein said.

Goldstein was also concerned about the size of the cars that the Naugatuck Police Department uses.

“We’ve got a police department that runs around in big cars. All the towns around this area use midsize cars for their cars. What are we doing, are we doing chases all over the town,” Goldstein asked the joint boards.

Finance Board Chair Robert Butler explained that the borough is switching out the police cars.

“The police [Crown Victoria] Interceptors that you are all familiar with have gone the way of the dodo,” Butler said.

Butler explained the police department is switching over to Ford Taurus vehicles. The police department currently has 36 cars and will be switching them out for Ford Taurus over the next few years.

Alec Wargo, chair of Taxpayers in Revolt, was concerned about the police officers being hired to replace the 11 that are retiring. He told the joint boards he believes the new officers should not all be hired this year, but rather staggered to help offset the cost.

Wargo proposed an alternative to hiring new police officers and giving the current ones their contractually obligated pay raises.

“You do have one alternative that you can go to if there’s nowhere to go and that is do not participate. Let them have the ability to strike like they used to in the old days,” Wargo said.

Wargo told the boards he felt the borough wouldn’t face any losses if police officers did not show up for duty.

“With these people we pay too much for very, very little,” Wargo said.

Ronald Merancy said jobs in the public sector should be run more like jobs in the private sector.

“Why do we, as a town, think that the employees of the town deserve a raise every year? Why do they think they’re better than 65 to 70 percent of the people in this town that don’t get raises, people that have been laid off multiple times, people that are working at jobs that no longer exist and they’re under employed? There’s no town employee that’s under employed,” Merancy said.

Mayor Robert Mezzo said the town is bound to a collective bargaining agreement with the town employees’ union. He explained there are three main bargaining points with the unions: wage increases, pensions, and health care.

He explained if he were to ask the unions for a wage freeze, it means the town would have to give more concessions in terms of health care and pensions.

“What you want to hear is ‘I’ve got a wage freeze for you.’ We’ve heard that for a generation now, we’ve got a wage freeze, but what you weren’t hearing for 20 or 30 years was what was coming on the back end, in your health care benefits, in your pension contributions, in the systems you were setting up that were absolutely unsustainable,” Mezzo said.

He said for a while the town could get away with that, but sooner or later, it has to account for that system.

State Rep. Rosa Rebimbas (R-70), who is also a Naugatuck resident, asked the joint boards to hold the mill rate where it is.

She told the boards that, having previously sat on the borough’s Finance Board, she understands how difficult a job it is to do.

However, she also felt that the boards need to look over the budget and see what they can do to reform it and keep the mill rate stable.

The one item in the budget the public came out to speak in favor of not only keeping but raising was the borough’s funding to the Whittemore Memorial Library.

The library is not a borough department. Rather it is known as an “association library.” The borough funds a significant portion of the library’s operating budget but does not pay for any repairs to the library.

The proposed budget includes flat funding for the library at $577,000, which was the same amount the library received in the 2010-11 budget.

Library staff and residents alike stepped forward to address the budget for the library.

Residents told the joint boards they supported the library because of the ability to check out books for free for themselves and their children, have a free and educational place to take their children, and the ability for those who don’t own computers to use the library’s computers.

Les Williams said he believes the library was one of the three most important institutions in learning.

“I think there are three great institutions in this country that extols the virtue of education, that extols the virtue of expanding your knowledge. One is the home, two is the school, three is the library,” Williams said.

The joint boards are scheduled to meet Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. in Town Hall to adopt the budget. Changes can still be made prior to adoption, and the budget could be forced to go to a referendum if residents petition to do so.