The budget -- $23.7 million on the town side and $37.3 million on the school side -- delivers a 4.1 percent spending increase over today's $58.7 million budget.

This is the first year residents will vote separately on the municipal and school budgets. For 20 years, they voted on one combined number.

At the meeting, residents can voice their opinions on the proposed budget and set a date to vote on the proposal. Under the town charter, they can propose cuts to the budget, but not increases.

"The New England town meeting is one of the last examples of pure democracy in action," said Board of Finance chairman Phil Gallagher. "Everyone should come and learn about the budget."

A $61 million budget translates to an increase in the tax -- or mill -- rate of about 5 percent, or about one mill.

Taxes are based on the mill rate, which now is 28.15. Because this is a revaluation year for Bethel, the increase in money coming into the town because of higher residential and commercial real estate values means the mill rate will be lowered.

For many property owners, however, a lower mill rate will not mean lower real estate taxes since, on average, both residential and commercial property values increased about 40 to 42 percent. Most residents, though, will see their car taxes decrease.

If the current budget of $58.7 million remained unchanged in the next fiscal year, a mill rate of 20.8 would be needed to pay school and town expenses. If voters approve the finance board-recommended $61 million budget, the new mill rate will be 21.8.

Taxes are based on assessed property value, which is 70 percent of market value. If the mill rate becomes 21.8, a homeowner whose assessment went from $200,000 to $280,000 will pay $6,104 in taxes in the next fiscal year instead of the $5,630 now paid -- a difference of $474.

"We're totally against it," Billy Michael, chairman of the taxpayer watchdog group Bethel Action Committee, said about the recommended budget.

Because of revaluation and an economy in recession, Michael said, "BAC doesn't think the tax increase is affordable to a voting majority."

William Kingston, chairman of the school board, sees the picture differently.

"I think it's a lean budget, and I'm very hopeful residents of Bethel will see it as a lean and responsible budget and pass it on the first vote," he said.

The school budget recommended by the Board of Education was cut $150,000 by selectmen and $50,000 by the finance board. Kingston said the school board hasn't yet decided how to handle those cuts.

Contact Marietta Homayonpour

at mhomayonpour@newstimes.com or at (203) 731-3336.

IFYOUGO

WHAT: Town meeting on $61 million municipal and school budget

WHEN: Monday at 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: Bethel Middle School