Fairfield tax rate rises, but many tax bills fall
Fairfield property owners are probably hoping that their taxes follow the trend set by bills that will be sent to some top elected officials when the new fiscal year starts July 1.
The chairmen of the boards of finance and education will see a drop in their tax bills, as will the selectmen and announced candidates for first selectman when the new mill rate takes effect.
In formally setting the tax rate last Wednesday, the Fairfield Board of Finance had to balance good news and not-so-good news for the 2011-12 fiscal year.
The tax rate ultimately adopted -- 22.47 mills -- would mean a tax bill of $12,358 on a house assessed at $550,000 when the fiscal year starts July 1. For a house assessed at $350,000, the bill would be $7,864, while the tax bill would be $5,617 on a home with an assessment of $250,000.
Among the group, Republican finance board member Robert Bellitto, who has announced a run for first selectman this year, will see the biggest drop. Bellitto's tax bill for his Wheeler Park home will be $1,142 less than the $7,667 he paid this year. David Becker, a Republican Representative Town Meeting member and another first selectman contender, will see the smallest change under the new tax rate -- his $7,347.46 bill drops $28. There is no real estate listed in the name of Michael Tetreau, a Democratic first selectman candidate who is also the recommended Democrat to fill in as interim first selectman following the departure of Kenneth Flatto last week for a state job.
One of the town's largest taxpayers, General Electric, will see the tax bill on its corporate headquarters fall $136,569 from $1,632,169 to $1,495,600.
The old mill rate was 19.27, but the town went through a property revaluation last year, and those new home values, many of which dropped, will be used to calculate tax bills that go out in July.
The initial tax-rate calculations by town Fiscal Officer Paul Hiller recommended 22.45 mills, but several fiscal issues that remain unresolved prompted the finance board to increase that to 22.47 mills.
Among the unknowns are the tax-collection rate, the cost of unemployment compensation and the outcome of a possible referendum that seeks to add back as much as $800,000 the education budget cut earlier last week by the Representative Town Meeting.
Superintendent of Schools David Title "indicated there would be personnel reductions" Hiller said, after the Board of Education budget request was decreased by a total of $2.8 million during the budget-approval process. But any layoffs come with a cost, Hiller said. Just one teacher, he said, could receive over $500 a week in unemployment benefits.
The estimated 98.89 percent collection rate would raise $235.5 million in revenue. But, if off by just a hair -- say, it turned out to be 98.80 percent -- would mean about $230,000 less, according to finance board member Chris DeWitt.
The state budget also approved last week brought some goods news, as long as the governor gets the union concessions he's seeking, officials said. Based on that budget, Fairfield will getting about $234,102 more in state revenue than expected, which could help cover a tax-collection shortfall.
If those concessions are not achieved and Fairfield's state revenue drops, Hiller said in the past the General Assembly has passed legislation allowing town's to review their already-adopted tax rates.
And if the referendum to add funds to the school budget is successful, Hiller said the Board of Finance would have to modify the mill rate.
Other options available if the fiscal equation later falls out of balance would be to dip into the town's undesignated surplus fund, estimated to be about $13.7 million at the end of this June. That number, Hiller said, is "slightly in excess of 5 percent" of the budget. Bond rating agencies recommend at least a 5 percent surplus to maintain a good rating for municipal bonds.
"Your statutory obligation is to deliver a balanced budget," Hiller said.
Finance board member Kevin Kiley pointed out that setting the mill rate at 22.47 instead of 22.45 would mean an additional $10 on a tax bill for a home assessed at $500,000.
How do elected Fairfield officials and candidates fare under the town's newly adopted tax rate? Here's a sampling of their annual property taxes, with the old tax bill in parentheses:
- Board of Finance Chairman Thomas Flynn: $7,977.75 ($8,458.95)
- Board of Education Chairman John Mitola: $10,664.40 ($10,153.07)
- Acting First Selectman Sherri Steeneck: $8,105.15 ($9,227.82)
- Selectman James Walsh: $7,320.28 ($7,418.95)
- RTM member and GOP first selectman candidate David Becker: $7,318.70 ($7,347.46)
- Finance board member and GOP first selectman candidate Robert Bellitto: $6,524.39 ($7,667.34)
- Board of Finance member and Democratic first selectman candidate Michael Tetreau does not currently own any real estate in town. "In the years that I have lived in town, I have owned a condo, owned a home and have rented," Tetreau said. "I have covered all the bases."
He now rents a home on Pleszko Place, but in 1980 had purchased a condominium on Silliman Street. He sold that and bought a home on Congress Street in 1996, which he sold in 1999.
"As a Realtor, I am very aware of the tax burden on our residents," Tetreau said. "I work every day with buyers that feel the impact of taxes on the affordability of homes they are buying."
Tetreau said all the town's taxpayers agree on the "desire for reasonable taxes and high-quality town services."