By Elio Gugliotti, Editor
PROSPECT — Officials gave themselves some more time to craft and approve a municipal budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year.
By town charter, the Town Council has to hold a hearing on the budget on or before April 20 and a town meeting to vote on the spending plan on or before May 10. That isn’t the case this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Through an executive order, Gov. Ned Lamont extended budget-related deadlines for municipalities by 30 days, and the council is taking advantage of the additional time.
The council voted April 7 during a virtual meeting to extend the deadlines for a hearing and a vote on the budget to May 20 and June 9, respectively, though officials may not use all the additional time.
The council is working off Mayor Robert Chatfield’s proposed $9.4 million municipal budget proposal. Chatfield presented the proposal, which increases overall town spending by $335,943 over this fiscal year’s municipal budget, on March 9. The council held two budget workshops before the town closed municipal buildings and canceled meetings due to the coronavirus. The council started to get back to business this month with virtual meetings, and has two more budget workshops this week.
Council Chairman Jeffrey Slapikas said the virtual meetings are running a lot better than he thought they would initially.
“The council is working hard and everybody’s patient about it,” Slapikas said.
When the time comes to adopt a budget, it won’t be town voters approving it this year.
Lamont’s executive orders also granted authority to municipal legislative bodies — in Prospect’s case the Town Council — to approve a budget and set the tax rate. This waives the town’s requirement to hold a town meeting to vote on the budget.
How the council will take public comment on the budget is to be determined.
Attorney Jennifer Yoxall, the town’s legal counsel, told the council last week that the executive orders require towns to give people the opportunity to view or listen to live meetings, but her opinion is towns aren’t required to have the capability to communicate with the public in real time during virtual meetings.
The executive order states towns have to take “reasonable steps” to publicize draft budgets and receive public comment on them, including through email.
During last week’s meeting, council member Theresa Graveline said that ideally the virtual meetings would allow for public interaction in real time, which is not the case now.
Slapikas said he’s not trying to hide anything or push a budget through but he felt it would be difficult to control a virtual meeting with members of the public participating live.
It’s likely that the town will post the budget proposal online and take public comment via email for a couple of weeks before voting on the budget.
The municipal budget doesn’t include spending for Region 16, which oversees public schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect. The Region 16 Board of Education last week adopted a $40.7 million school budget proposal. The proposal keeps overall spending flat but would increase the town’s net cost by about $1.4 million based on estimated revenues and an increase in the percentage of students from town, according to the proposal.