Beacon Falls needs to make smart cuts: Op-Ed
It’s time to make smart budget decisions. I have attended several of the town budget workshops and, while the budget is lean, several improvements should still be made to make the best use of taxpayers’ hard-earned money.
For most people, when they want to purchase something, they’ll save for it. For example, if someone wants to buy a house, that person will save for the down payment. Once he or she owns that home, at some point they’ll need to replace the roof, add a central air unit or repave the driveway — all expenses which most people budget and save for over time. Think of it as a consumer grade capital plan.
Beacon Falls has a different approach. Instead of saving money over a period of time for large expenses (e.g. vehicle replacement, new firetrucks, major road work), either a lump sum line item gets inserted into the budget the year it’s needed or a special town meeting is called for approval for the funding. This method is the opposite of a capital plan.
The roads in Beacon Falls are in major disrepair and need to be fixed. Improvements are needed at the sewage treatment plant to meet state guidelines. The town wants to improve the streetscape on Main Street and invest in parks. Ideally these would have been saved for over time but this is not the case.
The proposed 2019-20 budget makes major jumps in salaries for various town officials and employees which should be trimmed back or omitted.
Instead of having one fire marshal, the budget proposes a fire marshal and deputy fire marshal with salaries totaling $29,552 — over $13,000 more than budgeted for just the fire marshal this year. The administrative assistant for the fire chief and fire marshal will receive a stipend of $6,000 between both positions under the proposal, which is new to the budget this year.
The administrative police lieutenant salary is being increased by 53.8 percent with the thought that the position will take on additional hours as part of a proposal to share a resident state trooper with Bethany. Why is Beacon Falls paying for a police lieutenant when the town is paying the state police to handle operations? How many towns that participate in the resident state trooper program also employ a town-hired police lieutenant? The police lieutenant position should have been cut years ago.
The fire department continues to be a major expense for the taxpayers, requesting approximately $144,000 for supplies and equipment despite fundraisers, like the carnival, and donations townspeople contribute throughout the year. The fire chief position stipend remains at $12,000 but this continues to be baffling considering it is a volunteer department. While the taxpayers provide funding for the fire department, it is also a private entity. All income the fire department receives from fundraisers, hosted events and donations goes directly to its private bank account. How much money is in the private account and how is that money used? Perhaps the fire department could be more self-funding.
The budget includes about $30,000 for the town nurse. Having a town nurse is not a common practice and not necessary for our small town. It is however, a great opportunity to reduce unnecessary spending in the budget.
Outside of municipal elections, the budget hearing and vote is the most important vote in town. If people value their hard-earned money, they should make a point to attend and to vote. Without knowing what is coming down the channels from the state legislature (tolls, taxes, etc.) and without Beacon Falls having a capital plan in place, my recommendation is to vote “no” for the budget. Even if there is no mill rate increase, it doesn’t mean the town is spending responsibly. Voting “no” is the only way to force the Board of Finance to make smart cuts to some of the unnecessary spending in town.