Voters reject borough budgets

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Naugatuck Ballot Clerk Rita Sousa, left, hands a ballot to Georgina Genovese during a referendum on the borough’s municipal and school budgets Tuesday at the former train station. Both budgets were rejected. –LUKE MARSHALL
Naugatuck Ballot Clerk Rita Sousa, left, hands a ballot to Georgina Genovese during a referendum on the borough’s municipal and school budgets Tuesday at the former train station. Both budgets were rejected. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — Voters have sent borough officials back to the budget drawing board.

Naugatuck’s proposed 2015-16 municipal and school budgets were rejected at a referendum Tuesday. A total of 2,849 people voted, including absentee ballots. The turnout was roughly 17.5 percent of registered voters, which exceeded the 15 percent threshold needed to validate the results.

The total proposed budget was $115.8 million, an increase of $2.8 million, or 2.5 percent, over the 2014-15 budget. The proposal would have increased the mill rate from 44.27 mills to 45.99 mills.

The proposed municipal budget was $53.8 million, an increase of $1.7 million, or 3.3 percent, over the current budget. The proposed school budget was $62 million, an increase of $1.1 million, or 1.8 percent, over current education spending.

The budgets were each soundly rejected by those who came out to vote. Voters were given the options of voting “yes,” “no, too high” or “no, too low.”

The vote on the municipal budget, not including absentee ballots, was 2,607 no to 192 yes. The no votes included 20 people who voted “no, too low.”

The vote on the school budget, not including absentee ballots, was 2,536 no to 256 yes. The no votes included 23 people who voted “no, too low.”

The budgets were forced to a referendum through a petition effort.

Matthew Katra, who spearheaded the push for the referendum, said he was ecstatic that the turnout exceeded the required 15 percent.

“It’s just great that the taxpayers are speaking out loudly that they’ve had enough of the mayor’s tax-and-spend policies,” Katra said.

Katra pointed to the school budget as one area where spending should be reduced. He said the education budget has been ballooning despite a steady decline in enrollment.

Borough officials are scheduled to meet Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall to review spending and approve a revised budget to send to a public hearing.

Board of Finance Chair Diane Scinto said Tuesday night that she wasn’t surprised by the results of the referendum. She said it’s up to the members of the Joint Boards of Mayor and Burgesses and Board of Finance to make suggestions to reduce spending. She added that she will particularly look for suggestions from board members who favor a referendum.

“We will see what the joint board members, especially those who are in favor of the referendum, would like to cut from the budget,” Scinto said. “Realistically, we’re looking at services.”

A public hearing on the revised budget is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. July 13 at City Hill Middle School. Officials are scheduled to adopt another budget proposal at 6:30 p.m. July 20 at Town Hall.

After a revised budget is adopted, another referendum can be forced through petitions. The budgets failed at two referendums last year. No petitions were started to force a third referendum. Only three referendums can be forced. If a budget fails three times at a referendum, the subsequent approved budget is adopted.

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