Hello Bethel:

At the April 11 referendum, 23% of Bethel’s voters, or 2,873 people, made it to the polls to decide whether or not to pass the annual town, education, and capital budgets. The town budget was voted down, with 1,400 in favor and 1,466 against. The education budget passed, with 1,505 in favor and 1,351 against. The capital plan was voted down, with 1,296 in favor and 1,560 against.
Why did voters reject two of the three budgets? A look back at comments made at the March 20 Pubic Hearing and April 2 Town Meeting may elucidate the question. Some members of the public had voiced concern over the tax increase in the proposed town budget. Although the 2.8% increase was deemed “modest” by both Board of Finance Chair Bob Manfreda and First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker, it was coming on the heels of last year’s revaluation, after which some Bethel property owners were faced with a higher tax burden.

A second factor may have been the addition of the turf field in the capital plan. Although part of the original budget, it was removed before the budgets were presented at the Public Hearing. A large show of support for the turf field at the Hearing motivated the Board of Finance to add it to the capital plan. Dissenting voices at the Town Meeting questioned the need for the field, as well as the cost to taxpayers.

A final factor may have been the news in late March that construction of the new police station is over budget by $889,000, due primarily to electrical and HVAC costs as well as unforeseen site issues.

At this juncture, the education budget has been approved and will not face any changes. The Board of Finance will reconvene on Tuesday, April 17, to reconsider the town budget and capital plan, as mandated by the voters. Those two budgets will go to Referendum again, on a date to be determined.

The Board of Finance will also be discussing the police station construction overage at a later date, and taxpayers will also have the opportunity to vote on those additional funds.