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Letter: Greenwich costs are higher

Published 2:03 pm, Friday, May 3, 2013
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At the Board of Finance's public budget hearing last month, I was astonished to hear one speaker say she might have to move back to Greenwich, because she had paid a lower property tax rate on her home in Greenwich than she does on her home in Fairfield today.

Greenwich is not more affordable than Fairfield. Neither are Westport or Darien, whose property tax rates were cited in an email from a Republican representative this week to the RTM. An average Greenwich homeowner pays more dollars in taxes than a homeowner in Fairfield because property in Greenwich is worth more.

According to the real estate web site trulia.com, as of April 24, my 1,700-square-foot home would cost about $547,400 in Fairfield (twice what we paid 16 years ago); in Greenwich it would cost about $844,900. Gas costs more in Greenwich; groceries may as well.

If the value of property in Greenwich were the same as in Fairfield (or lower), those claiming Greenwich is more affordable would move there.

What matters is not the property tax rate, or mill rate, we pay on the assessed value of our homes. What matters is the dollars we pay.

Fairfield is raising a budget of $272 million this year; Greenwich, with the same population, is raising a budget of $401 million, almost 50 percent more. Not all of that is raised through taxes, however, it is clear that in order to raise a significantly larger amount of money from about the same population, property owners in Greenwich pay more dollars in property tax than property owners in Fairfield do.

Looked at another way, the grand list Greenwich is using for its property taxes this year is $30.3 billion. Fairfield's is $10.8 billion -- about two thirds less. Greenwich can charge a lower mill rate because the property being taxed is worth so much more.

If Fairfield could base our mill rate on Greenwich's grand list, our mill rate might be even lower than theirs, because the amount we need to raise is less.

I thank the Fairfield Taxpayers for their thoughtful rebuttal to statements I made on the subject of inflation at our April RTM meeting. That discussion is not over. Once we dig into statistics like "rate of inflation" and "cost of living increase," even according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which issues those reports, there is no "one-size-fits-all." The bureau looks at more than 200 categories of items each week and almost 100 urban centers across the United States. It considers spending by wage earners differently from spending by the unemployed and retired. It also often adjusts its figures retroactively.

I am sure there will be thoughtful replies and rebuttals to the information in this letter. I welcome that. It is important that we listen to all taxpayers and residents of Fairfield, and, especially when we talk about affordability, that we have the most complete and relevant information to develop our budget for the coming year.

Ann Stamler

RTM District 5

Fairfield