NAUGATUCK — Resident Catherine Mieth sat behind a folding table at Super Stop & Shop Sunday collecting signatures to force a second referendum on the proposed $115.26 million town and school budget.
“Do you know what the mill rate is going up to?” she asked passers-by and a reporter. “It’s going to 45.57. That’s too high. Really, too high.”
Mieth, who was wearing a button on her shirt that showed support for burgess and Republican mayoral hopeful Alexander Olbrys, pulled petition forms at Town Hall last week and is working with disgruntled residents to collect about 1,300 signatures, which is necessary to force the petition. She said she expects enough people will sign to force the referendum. The signature forms must be submitted to Town Hall to be verified by 4 p.m. on Aug. 3.
The Joints Boards of Finance and Mayor and Burgesses adopted a revised $115.26 million budget July 20. The budget is an increase of about $2.3 million, or 2 percent, over the 2014-15 budget. The municipal budget is nearly $53.6 million, an increase of about $1.5 million, or 2.9 percent. The Board of Education spending plan is $61.68 million, an increase of $770,651, or about 1.24 percent.
The budget increases the mill rate by 1.3 mills from 44.27 mills to 45.57, a 2.9 percent tax increase.
Mieth said the tax rate has “gone to the extreme” and that she remembers when it was in the mid-20s. That was before Naugatuck was mandated by the state to revalue its taxable property every five years.
“People are leaving their houses, they are not even selling them, they are just leaving the property because they cannot support it,” she said.
Resident John Heanue, who has helped organize petition drives with budget watchdogs Alec Wargo and Matt Katra in the past, was helping to collect signatures Sunday. He said he believes town officials could have cut more from the budget following the lopsided budget defeat at the first referendum on July 7.
Since then, the joint boards cut $524,492 from the overall town and school spending plans.
“The other thing is we just want to have a right to be able to vote on the budget,” Heanue said. “We don’t have an automatic referendum like other towns do, so we’d like to have that. But they’re not going to change the charter right now — not for us. But in the meantime, at least we can do it this way, through the petitions.”
Resident Peter Huculak signed the petition forms. He said spending has gotten out of control and that officials “really need to get down to basics.”
“I’m going to vote ‘no: too high’ because there are a lot of people in town who can’t afford it,” he said.
The petition drive had a hint of politics at its core, as did the first budget petition drive, which was organized by Katra, who is helping to organize Republican mayoral candidate Seth Bronko’s campaign. On Sunday, Republican burgess candidate Ed Fennell was collecting signatures, and members of the Olbrys camp were handing out campaign literature at the tables.
Board of Finance Chair Diane Scinto, who is also a Republican, responded to the budget critics Sunday.
“I would like to ask the people who took out this petition if they even looked at the budget, and what would be their suggestion to cut,” she said. “Do they want the senior center cut? Do they want the library closed? Do they want the parks closed? Do they want Hop Brook Golf Course closed? We need to find $1 million to get to where we were last year. The only way only way we can cut $1 million is to shut things down. This is a community, a wonderful community, and I am not willing to do that.”