Letters: Readers Write in on Budget, Budget Cuts and More Budget
Danger to our Schools, Property Values Comes Not from Hartford, But From Within Our Own Town
To the Editor:
I am dismayed by the Board of Finance’s recent action to cut both the town and education budget. The timing and execution of the cut run counter to collaborative and transparent governance, and Wilton frankly deserves better. And BOF member Peter Balderston’s recent editorial does nothing to shed light on why the four Republican members of the board chose such a shady approach that if cuts are maintained will, as [former BOF member Richard] Creeth noted in his letter, undermine credibility of the guideline process going forward.
The reality is both boards offered budgets that were below BOF guidance and that neither the revaluation outcome nor the pension pushdown attempts are new news. Both were signalled months ago and covered in our local media. GOOD Morning Wilton posted an article on Dec. 18, 2018 that included the speculation taxes would go up considerably for homes valued under $1MM. The BOF has been talking about pension pushdown since 2017, and it also was mentioned among the First Selectwoman’s 2019 priorities. Connecticut’s economic challenges are also not new news.
This means that these issues were/should have been on the BOF radar, and information was available and known prior to BOF joint meetings with the other boards, the public hearings and the tri-board meeting. Thus, the Republican members’ votes last week to make cuts after all of these meetings–with no advance notice or indication prior to the vote–signals a disingenuous operational choice to quietly sneak in changes after both the BOS and BOE have worked with them in good faith. This failure to engage with the other two boards in a transparent and collaborative way doesn’t serve our town or our citizens.
Given the BOF survey and both budgets coming in under BOF guidance, many residents assumed all three boards were working together as they should and that citizens could instead focus on the threat to schools from Hartford. Who could have known the danger to our school districts, and thus property values, was actually more serious from within our town?
It may seem there is little to be done since the BOF has already disregarded their own guidance, the other two boards, their own survey and the Wilton-initiated Hands Off Our Schools movement. However, attending the May 7 Annual Town Meeting to prevent potential further cuts will help. I hope to see you there.
Why Isn’t Anyone Celebrating Our Tax Cut?
To the Editor:
I want to make a few observations on Mr. Balderston’s excellent summary of the budget decisions.
First, if the Residential Grand List went down by 4.08% and the mill rate went up by 1.24%, the overall residential tax burden DECREASED by 2.73%. That is, there was an overall tax cut to residential properties of 2.73%, a tax cut of about $2.5 Million. Why isn’t anyone celebrating? The mill rate can be a very misleading indicator of the tax burden.
Second, it seems to be a common assumption that the proposed Homestead Exemption would mean a loss of tax revenue, but there’s no reason why it should. Instead, it could be used to offset the disproportional rise in taxes on lower-end properties
For example, a $50,000 homestead exemption is estimated to reduce revenue by $8 Million. To keep it revenue neutral, the mill rate would have to go up to 30.180. The difference in taxes for different house assessed values would be:
$250,000 14.75% reduction
$500,000 4.10% reduction
$800,000 0.10% reduction
$1,000,000 1.23% increase
$1,500,000 3.01% increase
This would make up for, and in some cases more than make up for, the increase in taxes at the low end.
Property taxes seem to me an archaic method of funding a town. They made sense when revenue was derived from the land, but that’s seldom true anymore. A more reasonable method would be one based on household income. It would be interesting to research how the tax burden has fluctuated as a percent of household income.