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Revised South Fire District budget returns to Middletown voters

By on June 12, 2022 0

MIDDLE-TOWN — Southern Fire District leaders hope their budget will be approved on Tuesday when residents vote on a revised spending plan after rejecting the initial proposal in April.

On April 26, the budget for the next fiscal year, which runs from July 1 to June 30, 2023, failed in a vote of 251 to 174.

Although the district has a population of about 14,000, Fire Chief James Trzaski said voter turnout in recent years has been at most 700 people.

In the new $6,548,818 budget, the tax rate was lowered to 5.6 mills, which is a slight increase, the chief said. The current budget of $6,264,662 carries a mill rate of 5.37.


A mill is equivalent to $1 of property tax levied for every $1,000 of a property’s assessed value. For a house valued at $200,000, taxes would increase by $36 per year, according to executive assistant Alyse McEwen.

During the first budget process, the leader said, the package did not include the state’s reimbursement of the district’s $570,000 in motor vehicle taxes.

The commissioners were financially responsible in their decision until the governor signed off on the budget, Trzaski explained. However, the refund turned out to be 70%, meaning the district is responsible for the remaining 30%.

Trzaski said the slight increase in fees is “absolutely reasonable” because no new programs are implemented and services are kept at the same level. New spending includes updating cybersecurity software.

Rising fuel prices were another “unforeseen” expense, the chef added. Sellers were unable to lock in the price, he added.

“It’s disappointing that even after the state provided more than $500,000 in car tax relief, the second revised budget proposal continues to include a 4.5% increase,” the commissioner said. Dan Penney.

Trzaski staff went through every element of the line in an effort to find savings and reviewed their service providers by consulting with three different vendors, he said.

The department found savings with cheaper health insurance premiums and solar panels that saved electricity, the chief said. He also seeks and applies for state and federal grants.

When firefighters do the repairs themselves, Trzaski said, it also reduces expenses.

One-time capital expenditures will be used to make building and driveway improvements and kitchen upgrades, he added.

Penney suggested a number of cost-cutting measures that could be implemented without negatively impacting services. These include eliminating the commissioner’s compensation, which totals an “unnecessary expense burden” on taxpayers of more than $90,000 over 10 years, he explained.

By comparison, Penney said, members of the Board of Education do not receive a stipend for their public service. Each year, he added, the budget averages more than a few hundred thousand dollars in surplus.

“That would suggest overtaxation, and items like a $50,000 contingency could easily be eliminated,” Penney said.

Trzaski posted a message on the department’s Facebook page, asking people to vote “based on factual information.”

“Attend public meetings, ask questions, call and talk to our administration or send us a message. Do not rely on hearsay, inflammatory social media comments or other sources of misinformation,” he said.

“This is about public safety, not politics,” he added.

The referendum will take place Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the train station, 445 Randolph Road. Postal ballots are available. For information, visit southfiredistrict.com.