NAUGATUCK — The Joints Boards of Finance and Mayor and Burgesses adopted a $115.26 million budget Monday night, nearly two weeks after the original 2015-16 spending plan was rejected at a referendum.
The $115.26 million proposal 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 $61.68 million, an increase of $770,651, or about 1.24 percent.
The proposed budget increases the mill rate by 1.3 mills from 44.27 mills to 45.57, a 2.9 percent tax increase.
“It’s a very responsible budget,” Board of Finance Chairwoman Diane Scinto said.
The $115.8 million budget proposal that was rejected by voters at a referendum July 7 would have increased the mill rate to 45.99 mills.
Two days after the referendum, the joint boards reduced spending by nearly $500,000.
On Monday, the boards voted to additionally reduce school spending by $25,000 as recommended by Assistant Superintendent of Schools Christopher Montini.
Montini said the money would come from attorney’s fees. He said the board doesn’t expect to spend the money because they will not be negotiating contracts this year.
Mayor Robert Mezzo said this reduction likely would not have occurred in another municipality.
“My guess is that the overwhelming majority of board of educations in the State of Connecticut would not have proposed that $25,000 cut at this process. They have the votes to get their budget approved, they know it’s going to be tight because there have already been cuts made,” Mezzo said. “Because of the relationship that has been built they are comfortable coming and saying ‘I think this line item we can reduce.’ That doesn’t happen in other towns.”
Members of the joint boards also voiced concerns over raises for school officials approved by the school board at a time when the budget was in question.
The raises include 2 percent for Superintendent of Schools Sharon Locke, 2.5 percent for Montini, 7 percent for Human Resources Director John Lawlor, who serves as the director of human resources for the school board and the borough, and 18.7 percent for Assistant Business Manager Bernice Rizk.
Locke has said she recommended Rizk’s pay increase because she gave Rizk far more responsibilities this year.
Raises for non-union employees are being given based upon performance for the first time. Each employee is evaluated by his or her supervisor.
“I can’t, in all good justification, say this is something we should be paying for. It has nothing to do with the people in the positions,” Burgess Rocky Vitale said. “I just can’t possibly support those increases right now. Not when we are looking to support the public and what they want.”
Ultimately, the joint boards made no motion to reduce the school budget on top of the $25,000 reduction recommended by Montini.
The joint boards also fielded a request for an increase in one department’s budget.
Republican Registrar of Voters Matt Katra, who has been outspoken against increases in the budget and spearheaded the collection of signatures to force the July 7 referendum, sent the joint boards a request for an additional $3,200 to cover certification for himself and Democratic Registrar of Voters Louise Sheedy.
“I find it ironic that the person who spearheaded referendums is now asking for an increase in his budget,” Scinto said.
The joint boards chose to hold off on the request to see if the certification could be done at a later date.
The revised municipal and school budgets can be forced to a referendum through petitions. Signatures from 8 percent, or roughly 1,300, of registered voters are needed to force a referendum. Petitions have to be submitted by Aug. 3 to force a vote.
Katra said he’s unable to petition to force another referendum due to personal commitments, but encouraged other residents to collect signatures.
“If even just 60 residents in the borough each handed in a set of completed petition forms we would have more than the 8 percent required,” Katra said.
As of Tuesday no one had picked up a petition to begin collecting signatures.