Selectmen put forward spending plan

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BEACON FALLS — The Board of Selectmen Monday night approved a $6.4 million municipal budget proposal for the 2015-16 fiscal year.

The spending plan, which is an increase of $230,270 or 3.7 percent over the current town budget, was sent to the Board of Finance for review. The spending plan will be reviewed in workshops before a final proposal is sent to a vote.

“Ultimately what we’re sending them is a guide,” said First Selectman Christopher Bielik during the special meeting. “Ultimately what they’re going to come out with is going to be what’s going to go to the public.”

The budget proposal includes an additional $58,000 to hire a seventh member for the highway maintenance crew. The position hasn’t been filled for several following the retirement of a crew member. The additional funds cover just the salary for the position.

The budget proposal also includes an additional $23,500 to hire more part-time police officers to provide full-time police coverage in town. Currently, there are two or three days a week — depending on the schedule of state police — when the town is reliant on a state trooper patrolling Route 8 from exits 13 to 29 to provide police coverage overnight.

“Right now we don’t have 24/7 coverage,” Bielik said. “We do not have enough funding to be able to do that even if we had the bodies to do it.”

The harsh winters the past few years have also taken their toll on the budget. The proposal increases the snow removal budget $20,000 to $90,000 total.

Bielik said the town hasn’t budgeted enough for snow removal in the past and has had to transfer money into the account. He said $90,000 is in line with what the town has actually spent on snow cleanup.

“Instead of transferring money into it maybe, if it’s a good year, we can take some money out of it,” Bielik said.

Bielik said the town is still exploring its options when it comes to workers’ compensation, but as it stands right now it is set to increase $45,000 from what was budgeted in the current fiscal year. Bielik said the town didn’t budget enough in this fiscal year for workers’ compensation and the actual increase over what was needed is about $27,000.

The spending plan also includes 2.5 percent wage increases for union Town Hall employees and matching salary increases for non-union workers. The proposal would also make the salary for elected officials, excluding the first selectmen, equal at $1,000 a month starting after the November election.

The town did realize a reduction, about $55,000, in the cost of medical benefits. The savings stem from a switch in health care providers and a change from a point of service plan to a high deductible health savings account.

A list of capital projects totaling about $162,000 is also included in the spending plan. The town is obligated to pay for five of the projects, which total about $56,000, including paying for a property revaluation in 2016 and lease payments for equipment.

The other proposed capital items include another power lift stretcher for Beacon Hose Company No. 1, about $20,000 for repairs to the police station and $8,500 to replace a rusting storage container at the public works garage. These items were described as a “wish list.”

Bielik said the town could also look at using excess funds from the general fund balance to pay for the capital projects, which are one-time expenditures. He said that’s a discussion the selectmen can have with the finance board.

The town budget doesn’t include education expenses for Region 16, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect. Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin has proposed a $40.8 million 2015-16 school budget, which increases spending by about of $1.08 million over the current budget for the district.