Board of Estimates recommends 2013 Middletown budget

Middletown’s Board of Estimates is recommending a 2013 budget with a 2 percent hike in taxes and spending.

The property tax levy would go up to $17.69 million, water and sewer rates to a combined $10.84 million, and general fund spending to $51.47 million, said Mayor Joe DeStefano, who is on the Board of Estimates with Common Council President J. Miguel Rodrigues and Finance Committee Chairman Joel Sierra. This is within the state’s cap on property tax increases.
The budget doesn’t contain any new hires, although it does fill several vacancies, including replacing two retiring firefighters on April 1, and two vacancies in code enforcement.

“In Middletown, we’re trying to improve the quality of life issues,” Rodrigues said. “Code enforcement is a very important thing.”

The 2013 budget won’t include money for a pension program for volunteer firefighters. Although the Common Council seems likely to approve some version of the program in 2013, it also needs a referendum to pass, said Rodrigues. The next election is in November 2013, and several aldermen have said they won’t support a special election before then.

The budget saves $750,000 by changing health-insurance carriers. The city’s employee unions have filed grievances opposing the change. DeStefano has threatened a hiring freeze and possible layoffs if the city is blocked from this.

The budget would cut overtime by $50,000 in the fire department and $100,000 in the police department. It doesn’t contain two new cops Chief Ramon Bethencourt had asked for, but the city may fund a fourth police canine in 2013, said Sierra. This would cost about $40,000 up-front, but the cost would be minimal after that. Sierra said having a dog makes it less likely that people will fight in a crowd situation, plus they can chase suspects and find drugs, among other benefits.

“It’s worth the price, in my eyes,” he said.

The public hearing on the budget will be at 5 p.m. on Dec. 10 at City Hall, followed by a Board of Estimates meeting and a Common Council meeting to pass it. The Council can make cuts but can’t add to the budget.

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