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Litchfield’s $5.1M town spending plan goes to voters

LITCHFIELD — Local voters will be asked to approve a $5.1 million town operating budget at the polls next month, an increase of about 3 percent over current spending.

At Saturday’s town deliberative session, residents made no amendments to the proposed $5,130,166 budget for 2014. The proposal is about $155,000 more than the existing budget of $4,975,066.

“This year we did have a unique experience,” said Selectman John Brunelle, chairman of the Litchfield Board of Selectmen. He said that voters failed to support the proposed budget at the polls last year, meaning the town has been operating on a default budget for the past several months.

As a result, Brunelle said the town came very close to exceeding its approved spending, with less than 1 percent of the budget — or about $20,000 — remaining.

“There are some increases, obviously,” he said of the suggested budget, which would result in a tax rate of $3.58 per $1,000 of assessed valuation for the town portion of the tax rate.

In 2012, the town portion of the tax rate was $3.57, in 2011 it was $3.39 and in 2010 it was $3.18.

The town was faced with about $90,000 in increases for the upcoming budget, according to Brunelle, explaining insurance and benefit costs are on the rise, as well as increases from Pennichuck Water Co.

The police budget is up a proposed 3 percent, and retirement costs are also on the rise, he said. But, he said revenues are up about $40,000, in part because of a 3 percent increase in new car registrations.

A savings of about 50 percent in legal fees is projected, primarily because of a switch in legal firms and a reduction in legal cases, said Brunelle.

Also included in the proposed budget is the purchase of two new police cruisers, in addition to lease payments for two other police cruisers purchased last year.

“I 100 percent support their safety,” resident Susan Seabrook said of the local police force, maintaining that new police cruisers may save lives and should be approved.

Although the town budget is being recommended by the Board of Selectmen and the Litchfield Budget Committee, there were three members of the budget panel opposed to the spending plan.

“I felt it was a little high in certain areas,” said Andrew Cutter of the budget committee, adding there were some last minute budget increases that he did not support.

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