Bethany budget breezes through

BETHANY ~~The Board of Finance's $12.8 million recommended budget for 2000-2001 breezed through the Annual Town Meeting Monday unanimously and without discussion, but the 130 voters present took more than an hour and a half to debate and approve $306,580 in 12 recommended capital items.

BETHANY ~~The Board of Finance's $12.8 million recommended budget for 2000-2001 breezed through the Annual Town Meeting Monday unanimously and without discussion, but the 130 voters present took more than an hour and a half to debate and approve $306,580 in 12 recommended capital items.

The new budget, up $847,000 over the current $11.9 million budget, represents a five- percent increase in taxes. The Board of Finance met following the meeting and set the new mill rate at 29.32 mills, up 1.5 mills. This will result in homeowners paying about a $100 increase for each $2000 of local taxes paid for the current year.

Meanwhile, the Amity Regional Board of Education budget of $25 million, trimmed $50,000 following a referendum rejection earlier this month, goes to a second referendum May 24. Finance Chairman Russell von Beren said Monday the result would only mean the town will spend less than budgeted because the town budget was predicated on the original Amity figure.

Recommendations to establish building committees for a new K - 2 elementary school and a public safety building, with $20,000 and $15,000 funding respectively for schematic drawings, set off animated discussion for almost an hour.

School Superintendent Dominic Vita said a new school is needed because the present one, although expanded in 1998, is already full at 630 students. It cannot be further expanded because of site limitations and its core facilities are "maxed out," he said. In response to questions, he said that more students will require additional administrative and other service personnel costs because the present services cannot handle any more students.

Enrollment is expected to reach 700 students by 2008; 77 were added this year, finance member Michael Stearne said. This trend is projected to continue, he said, adding that 25 new homes and 60 resale of homes occurred last year. The new school is expected to last for 10 to 15 years and will be expandable, he added.

Discussion of the cost of a new school prompted several parental complaints about water problems at the present Community School the past two years, involving the water supply and lavatories. Agreeing it has been a "horrendous problem," Richard VanHorn, chairman of the school's building committee, said control equipment in the wellhouse has been the problem. His committee has recommended town legal action against the company. The current water system will be scrapped and a new one installed this summer, panel member Sal Ferrante said.

The basic problem is that the state requires a school to take the low bidder when reimbursement is sought, VanHorn said. The school board anticipates nearly 40 percent reimbursement on the projected $10 million building cost of the new school.

The proposed public safety building, which would involve moving Center Firehouse operations to the former airport property, also prompted long debate. Several questioned why the schematic drawings were so costly (an estimated $15,000) in relation to those for the school. Steve Winter said that drawing preliminary plans was "all the same" and did not reflect actual construction costs.

Judy Tierney recommended a planner to "pull these (town) projects together." She also called it a "mistake" to move the resident state troopers from Town Hall and the school area to the proposed building on upper Rt. 63 because of "so many (school) incidents around the country."

Fire Chief George Quinn said that the present Center Firehouse building and filled land beneath it are settling and foundation cracks are appearing. The building "won't last much longer," he said, adding that the department had forewarned the finance board of its need for the past six years.

Third Selectman Melissa Spear urged the fire department to hold a meeting to explain its needs in detail and to "listen to the community before you set things in stone."

Nancy Bennett said it was comparing apples to oranges to equate the two building projects because students are in school a majority of the day, while a fire station house equipment is used sporadically.

Moderator Paul Manger said residents would have time to react to both building projects in detail when hearings are held on the specific proposals.

In other meeting comments:

First Selectman Craig Stahl said replacement of the Town Hall telephone system ($23,000) is needed, despite later building renovation, because there are many problems and the equipment can be adapted to future changes.

Finance member Stephen Squinto said it would be hard to find the money for the building program in the Long-Range Facilities Planning Committee report because town revenues are "flat." Saying, "We have to open our eyes to that fact," another resident suggested,"Tax or get business in town."

Spear complained that she was never consulted on an agenda item before she signed the meeting call. "I'm really tired of all the selectmen not being included in the process," Lucy Painter said.

Stahl presented the First Selectmen's Unsung Hero Award to Dwight Johnson. He is a charter member of the veterans of Foreign War local chapter, as well as a member of the Lions Club and Historical Society. "And an outstanding human being," Manger added.

Conservation Chairman Kenneth Martin presented the Annual Conservation Commission Award to David H. Thompson as an outstanding leader and teacher in the field of Bethany archaeology. He is president of the Greater New haven Archaeological Society and a board member of the Archaeology Commission of CT. his two-year "dig" adjoining the Bethany Bog has dated its human history back to 4,000 BC.