BETHEL -- Nearly 30 percent of voters turned out Thursday and passed Bethel's 2012-13 budget on the first try.
The vote to spend $25.6 million for town operations, was 1,683 yes to 1,343 no, while the vote to spend $39.6 million on education was 1,627 yes to 1,399 no.
The vote on $1.6 million for capital item expenditures passed 1,913-1,090.
The budget is $2 million or 3.2 percent more than current spending and will increase the tax rate by about 3. 5 percent, to about 24.03 mills.
First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker was thrilled with the turnout and the result.
"I am very, very pleased with the direction the town is taking. I thank all the people who helped get out the vote," Knickerbocker said at the Hurgin Municipal Center, where all the polling districts votes were tallied.
"This is a great night for Bethel and is a strong show of support for the town and the schools," he said.
The town operating budget, which is up $600,000 from current spending, includes $4.3 million debt service, which is $15,000 more than current spending, and $460,000 for school maintenance, which is $60,000 more than current spending.
On the non-binding advisory question, 1,762 voters said the town budget was too high, while 702 said it was too low.
For the $39.6 million education plan, which is $1.3 million more than the current spending, 1,647 voters said it was too high and 890 said it was too low.
"I am deeply grateful for the generous support the Bethel community has shown the schools by supporting the budget," Smith said.
About 3,026, or about 28 percent of the town's 10,909 registered voters, turned out to vote.
That impressed tax watchdog Billy Michael, who lobbied against the budget as being too high.
"It was a stellar turnout," Michael said in a telephone message after the vote. "It was a fabulous victory for the schools and for the town's pro-budget people."
But Michael called the town schizophrenic for supporting the budgets but answering the advisory questions by saying they were too high.
For the first time as the results came in, school staff entered them on a laptop spread sheet and flashed them onto the wall.
Selectman Paul Szatkowski said he thought the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Finance read the residents correctly about what they would support, since he thinks the first budget is always the best budget.
"We've made a lot of progress with the schools, and the schools dictate the quality of the town," Szatkowski said. "This shows the people support the schools."
The $1.6 million for capital expenses includes $327,050 for road construction, $60,000 for the Highway Department garage roof, $50,000 for general purpose room air conditioning, $ 50,000 for a gymnasium heat and hot water system.
Also, $165,000 to convert the highway/public works building to gas, $80,000 for preliminary drawings for future police station, $167,950 to replace high school tennis courts and $650,000 to replace a pumper/tanker for Stony Hill Fire Department.