Naugatuck residents you are well aware that you have one of the highest tax rates in the state at 44.8 mills and taxes may increase slightly again this year, the Waterbury Republican-American reports.
Some residents are fed up and are trying to petition for a referendum, but Mayor Bob Mezzo wrote on his blog that “many taxpayers will notice Little Substantial Change Or Even A Net Decrease In Their Overall Tax Bill.”
If you calculate the increase in taxes by 0.26 mills to one’s residential property, and then multiple the depreciated car value for those owning motor vehicles by the new mill rate (multiply 2013 car value by 0.04506), many taxpayers will notice LITTLE SUBSTANTIAL CHANGE OR EVEN A NET DECREASE IN THEIR OVERALL TAX BILL. This even includes some of those organizing the petition drive to send the adopted budget to referendum.
Much has been said on various social media sites since the adoption of Naugatuck’s 2014 – 2015 budget. Once again, a group of individuals similar to the one who solicited signatures last year, are asking residents to sign petitions to force the budget to a public referendum. While this is a valid process authorized by the Borough charter, it is important to understand the facts about the proposed budget if approached by someone asking for a signature.
The increase in the mill rate in the proposed budget is 0.26 of a mill. To determine its impact on one’s real estate property tax bill, please link here. Said link contains an analysis of the tax impact on each owner’s property over the past two years. An analysis of each owner’s motor vehicle assessment can be accessed through this link. Said values are provided to the Naugatuck Assessor by the State of Connecticut, and include depreciation of existing vehicles. To calculate the new, motor vehicle tax, multiple the 2013 assessment by 0.04506 (which represents 45.06 mills), or use the motor vehicle calculator provided here.
The 0.26 mill rate increase is also the lowest increase, not withstanding revaluation, in all but two of the last fifteen years.
• 2000 – 2001: 55.60 mills
• 2001 – 2002: 32.60 mills; REVALUATION – decrease of 23 mills (if no revaluation, decrease of 1.1 mills)
• 2002 – 2003: 35.50 mills; increase of 2.90 mills
• 2003 – 2004: 33.00 mills; REVALUATION – decrease of 2.50 mills (if no revaluation, increase of 3.1 mills)
• 2004 – 2005: 35.40 mills: increase of 2.40 mills
• 2005 – 2006: 37.10 mills, increase of 1.70 mills
• 2006 – 2007: 38.80 mills, increase of 1.70 mills
• 2007 – 2008; 41.30 mills; increase of 2.50 mills
• 2008 – 2009: 31.52 mills; REVALUATION – decrease of 9.78 mills (if no revaluation, increase of 3.69 mills)
• 2009 – 2010: 31.52 mills; No Increase
• 2010 – 2011: 32.02 mills; increase of 0.50 mill
• 2011 – 2012: 33.20 mills; increase of 1.18 mills
• 2012 – 2013: 33.55 mills; increase of 0.35 mill
• 2013 – 2014: 44.80 mills; REVALUATION – increase of 11.25 mills (if no revaluation, increase of 0.93 mill)
• 2014 – 2015: 45.06 mills; increase of 0.26 mill (adopted, subject to referendum)
While revaluation skews the mill rate, the information above includes what the mill rate adjustment would be on an annual basis if there was no revaluation. Only the 2009-2010 budget, which was approved with no increase in the mill rate; and the 2001 – 2002 revaluation year budget; contain lower mill rate increases than the adopted budget of this year, without regard for revaluation.
Spending in the adopted 2014 – 2015 budget did increase by 3.9% or $4,333,754.00; but revenue from sources other than taxes collectible increased by 8.3%. This was largely due to increases in state aid, fund balance revenue (for capital projects) and use of the Borough’s health care reserve to offset increases in health benefits. Approximately $4.4 million of the increase in spending is attributable to the increase in employee health care costs (approximately $3.3 million dollars for both municipal and board of education employees), federally mandated upgrades to Naugatuck sewer treatment facility ($800,000.00) and a repair to an existing sewer line ($345,000.00).
All this represents an increase in the mill rate of .26 mills, or 0.5%. A mill represents one dollar for every thousand dollars of taxable property. The median home value in Naugatuck according to www.zillow.com is $159,800.00. The increase in taxes for such a home (assessed value at 70% percent of appraised value = $111,860.00) would be $29.08.
There is a lot of information listed above. One can only wonder how much of it gets explained to someone whose signature is requested on a petition form. It will also be interesting to know, once petition signatures are submitted, how many of those signing the petition will actually experience no substantial impact to their overall tax bills, or even a tax decrease, when car depreciation is calculated.
Certainly petition organizers point to Naugatuck’s mill rate, which currently ranks as one of the highest in the state. What that means, however, is also not as simple. A mill itself is only a multiplier of value. Naugatuck’s mill rate was never below 55.60 in the entire decade of the 1990′s. In fact, the mill rate was never lower than 39.7 from 1969 – 1970 through the 1999 – 2000 fiscal year. Such figures mean little, however, without the context of the actual effect of taxes as a result of the mill rate. The lowest mill rate the Borough had in recent history was the 31.52 mills in 2008 – 2009, and again in 2009 – 2010. At that time, homes were valued with 2007 assessments. I do not recall people being content then about taxes, as some were paying more amounts than today due to higher values. Naugatuck lost about 26% of its residential property value after the 2012 revaluation. If one looks at the analysis of tax impact by owner listed on the Borough website, one will find many homeowners who are paying less for real estate taxes than two years ago.
Pointing to mill rates in other communities is a common theme that has been used lately. Once again, however, we need to know a little about comparative home values. The median home value in Naugatuck according to www.zillow.com is $159,800.00. At 44.80 mills the tax would be $5,011.33 ($159,800.00 x 70% assessed value). At 45.06 the tax would be $5,040.41. The median home value on a house in Fairfield is listed on the same site is listed as $497,600.00. The assessed value (70%) of that would be $348,320.00. The taxes on such a home in Fairfield would be about $8,335.30 ($348,320.00 x .02393 mill rate). To be fair, I will use Shelton, which has been referenced by some petition supporters. The median home value is $288,200.00. At a mill rate of 22.31 mills, the tax on such a home would be lower than in Naugatuck. Such a home in Shelton at its current mill rate would be $4,500.82 ($288,200.00 * .7 * 0.02231). While this is in fact lower than Naugatuck, it is not lower proportionate to the difference in the mill rate.
Some of the petition organizers have advocated for additional decreases in spending in the adopted budget. Let us first consider what has already been removed from the budget.
• Education: 27 teachers accepted an early retirement incentive package (“ERIP”). The total reduction in force (“RIF”) for educators is 14.5 positions. Another 5.5 support positions are not being filled.
• Public Works: In addition to 3 vacant positions, 8 employees took an ERIP. 2 of those positions will not be filled as the sanitation operation was privatized. The Borough has the option not to fill the 6 remaining positions during the 2014 – 2015 fiscal year so that it can absorb the retirement payouts.
• Visiting Nurses Association (“NVNA”) and Youth and Family Services (“NYFS”): Both agencies are transitioning to other providers with will reduce staff costs moving forward.
• Fire: 2 positions were budgeted to be left vacant after retirement.
• Police: No new positions.
• Consolidation of senior bus services.
• All the capital purchases were offset by revenue additions. If the capital purchases are eliminated from the budget, the corresponding revenue would likely be returned to the Borough’s fund balance, yielding no effect on the tax rate.
I can not speak for others that supported the aforementioned cuts, but personally I did so with reservations. We are all aware that times are hard and that taxpayers have been stretched to their limits in many cases, but thinking that such cuts will not effect the quality of life in our community is naive. NVNA and NYFS have served the Borough honorably and professionally for many years. While no public works employee will lose his job, we have never had private sanitation collection before. The demands on public safety continue to grow, but we struggle to invest in necessary resources. The collective years of teaching experience lost to retirement is staggering. We are elected or appointed to make hard decisions, and I can honestly say after my ninth budget over the years that very few of the choices are easy. Everyone wants to reduce costs and eliminate services, but the problems is that it is difficult to agree on which ones to cut. Budget hearings over the years have been filled with suggestions to “cut, cut, cut”, but “do not cut “fill in the blank” service”. I pray that the cuts we have already made do not further tear apart the social fabric of our community. While we have indeed enacted change in the name of government efficiency and reduced costs, only time will tell if our actions prove detrimental to our community.
What we have not heard from the organizers of the petition drive is exactly what additional items should be cut or what, if any, revenue enhancements should be made. Burgess Catherine Ernsky stated “I made sure to voice my opinion and suggestions on further decreasing the borough budget, which includes the Educational Board budget at our meetings. There seemed to be little support for doing this further. I was frustrated and disappointed and I will continue to push for further savings.” Facebook, June 1, 2014. I do recall Burgess Ernsky, for whom I have a great deal of respect, asking questions and voting against various budgets; but I do not recall any specific proposals that would have had any meaningful impact on reducing the mill rate. Others voted against different departmental budgets as well, but there were no concrete proposals presented at the adoption meeting to reduce the budget to any significant degree.
One could argue that cuts could have been made to the Board of Education (“BoE”) budget. That is certainly a large portion of our local budget. What is different then in years past, however, is that every line item in the BoE budget is presented to the Joint Boards and we share a variety of levels of service. While state law allows the BoE to spend its allotted money without any input from municipal government, the institutions of cooperation in Naugatuck have changed drastically. If Joint Board members who are now participating in the petition drive believe more cuts should be made to education, there is some level of duty to at least indicate what educational services should be cut.
State Representative Rosa Rebimbas stated “I am disappointed at the local budget, and even more disappointed at the members who voted for it. I commend the members who had the courage to ask questions, were willing to propose ideas, and voted no where necessary. We can not continue to live this way in Naugatuck.” Facebook, May 30, 2014. One would think that someone in Representative Rebimbas’ position would be willing to offer some specifics about exactly with what she is disappointed.
When pressed exactly what Representative Rebimbas believes should be cut in the same social media forum, her response was “A thorough response as to exactly where is not something that can be typed in a facebook post. However, I can assure you that I have met with several members and they have my notes.“ Facebook, June 1, 2014. I recall none of Representative Rebimbas’ notes being presented at any of the budget hearings or meetings, and no one else presented anything in writing suggesting additional cuts for debate. I certainly do not expect Representative Rebimbas to present detailed budget proposals through social media conversations, but there was ample opportunity to propose meaningful suggestions for debate throughout the many long months of budget hearings, the public hearing and the eventual adoption meeting.
Not one person on any board enjoys being part of a tax increase. There are hard-working community servants, both Republicans and Democrats, who serve on the Finance Board and Board of Mayor and Burgesses each year and formulate the annual budget under difficult circumstances in a non-partisan manner. After numerous long hours, deliberation and debate, the Joint Boards has approved the 2014 – 2015 budget with one of the lowest mill rate increases possible without actually being flat. Consider the following adjustments to the mill rate in surrounding towns:
• NAUGATUCK: increase of 0.26 mill
• Ansonia: decrease of 0.73 mill (used savings account revenue)
• Beacon Falls: increase of 0.6 mill
• Derby: increase of 0.44 mill
• Oxford: increase of 0.9 mill
• Prospect: increase of 0.9 mill
• Seymour: increase of 0.81 mill
• Shelton: no increase / flat mill rate
• Waterbury: increase of 1.24 mills (after hearing/pending adoption)
• Wolcott: increase of 1.25 mills
Unfortunately, the budget petition referendum drive this year has a strong dose of politics at its core. It is no coincidence that many of the leaders of the petition drive were also the strongest backers of the 2013 Republican mayoral candidate. At a time when Naugatuck truly needed a healthy debate about taxes, government reform and our local economy; we were left with one of the most dysfunctional campaigns in recent history. I welcomed the opportunity to debate the issues and engage more residents in the process. Campaigns and debate strengthen our democracy, provide information to residents and force us to move beyond simple soundbites. Unfortunately Naugatuck missed that opportunity. The politics practiced at the last election by many of those now circulating budget referendum petitions proved extremely detrimental to the last mayoral campaign for which they were involved and the party they represent. Notwithstanding the damage done to the reputation of our community, “Common Sense” would dictate the quick and complete discard of those tactics; not a re-implementation into Naugatuck’s difficult and complex budgetary process. Some of the same people responsible for that debacle are now asking residents outside supermarkets to force the budget to referendum without offering any information or context, many of whom might actually be paying little more or even less in overall taxes this year as a result of car depreciation. Maybe this will have positive results as it will force more residents to actually consider more complex questions than simply “Do you want to pay lower taxes?”. I have not heard from many people who say no to that question.
After the referendum date is set, we will then undoubtedly hear from the petition organizers how people who support the budget will stay home so that the vote will not qualify with 15% percent requirement. The Charter specifies a minimum percentage for a reason. Changing a local charter is a hard and time consuming process that does not happen without a lot of debate and deliberation. In 2012, voters had the opportunity to make a benign change to make the referendum process easier: reducing the number of petition signatures for a second and third referendum. This measure was rejected by voters. I suggest we consider the possibility that there is a healthy segment our community that believes that the referendum process is dominated by those use it for political gain rather than real budgetary reform. While such citizens may not choose to publicize their every thought on social media, some may choose to express their opinion by exercising or not exercising their right to vote.
I believe I have voted in all the budget referendums Naugatuck has had, and am certain I will do so again this year. Personally I feel an obligation to vote as the mayor of this community, even if I question the wisdom and logic behind the referendum process. That does not mean that others are not entitled to disagree. The privilege to vote, or not vote, is sacred in this Country; something that has been secured by the men and women of our armed forces who have risked their lives and in many cases died to protect it. This is not North Korea or some other place that forces its citizens to vote whether or not they choose to do so. Just because someone waives a Gadsden flag and tells everyone how big of a Patriot he or she is does not mean his or her voting privilege is more important than any other citizen. Citizens have a right to make an informed decision and cast their respective vote, or not, based upon their respective beliefs and judgments.
Naugatuck cannot afford this politics over people approach any longer. Throughout my tenure as Mayor I have put great efforts into making my actions and beliefs and those of my administration transparent and accountable. I have acted openly and required those around me to do the same; and presented both good and bad news with equal candidness and responsibility. I will continue to do so. For a community to move forward, we must be able to determine fact from fiction through open dialog and informed debate. Individuals or groups making grand statements offering nothing in support should be considered just that: nothing. Naugatuck deserves better.
I would urge any resident concerned about the adopted budget and its corresponding tax implications on their personal finances to contact me directly by email (firstname.lastname@example.org ) or on my cell phone (203-217-0876) for more information. Taxpayers may also contact the Naugatuck Tax Collector’s Office at 203-720-7051, or email Tax Collector Jim Goggin directly at email@example.com, to learn the exact amount of their new tax bill.