Hines Sight / A 4 percent increase in taxes? No way
Published 6:30 am, Thursday, March 1, 2012
I don't profess to be a math whiz. Far from it. In fact, many years ago I gave up trying to reconcile by checking account because it was just futile, especially after the ATM became my preferred method of banking. You see, I often forgot to record what I put in and what I took out.
My strength is in the written word, not addition and subtraction. How I do my personal finances may be unconventional, but I do know how much I spend and for what. I also always have a keen eye on what comes in.
Can the same be said for our municipality?
I guess we will find out as the 2012-13 municipal budget is undergoing scrutiny (is that too strong a word?) by the boards of Finance and Selectmen. After they are done with their deliberations, the proposed budget goes to the Representative Town Meeting for adoption. The Board of Finance then sets the mill rate, which, for anyone who doesn't know, dictates how much we all pay in real estate and personal property taxes.
First, let's take a look at the Board of Education budget, which even I have to admit seems lean compared to past years. Superintendent of Schools David Title requested and the Board of Education approved (with nary a change) a proposal of $149,464,941, but First Selectman Michael Tetreau reduced it by $612,525 as a result of revised pension numbers
The school budget now is proposed to increase by 2.18 percent. Nonetheless, the appropriation for the school system still represents nearly 55 percent of the overall municipal budget.
Tetreau's proposal for the town side of the budget is approximately $124 million, and combined with the request for education, the municipal budget being considered by town decision-makers is $272,560,737, an increase of nearly $9.5 million, or 3.6 percent, over the current fiscal year.
Dissection of the individual line items in the municipal budget also is not one of my strong suits. But there are a few areas that should be questioned by our financiers, like fees and professional services, which in some of the department budgets seem exorbitant. What exactly does this pay for?
For instance, there is a proposed 30 percent increase in the legal services budget (do we still not have an appointed town attorney since the resignation of Richard Saxl?) and a request of $114,000 "to provide appraisal and consulting services connected with approximately 150 pending court actions" in the assessor's office. Do we need both? Can't these assessor costs be absorbed into the legal services budget?
I don't know for sure. I'm just asking. And here's hoping our deliberators ask the tough questions.
In aid to private agencies, like the arts and miscellaneous organizations, there's a new line item -- $39,000 for the Fairfield Theater Company. Why? And is this necessary?
Similarly, Tetreau is proposing a $25,000 appropriation for FairTV, which broadcasts town meetings. Tetreau explained in his budget message, "FairTV has become part of our culture and is a cornerstone of more open and transparent government." I'm all for open and transparent government, but do we need to spend $25,000 to get it? Tetreau tempers the new expense by saying a "FairTV Commission" should be established to set priorities for the spending of the money. On the surface, that sounds nice, but thinking about it a little more, isn't that just more bureaucracy to ensure open and transparent government? But I digress.
OK, so right about now you're probably wondering what any of this means for you. How does a 4 percent increase in your tax bill grab you? That 4 percent -- higher than the rate of inflation.
For me, that is all that matters when deciding on the final municipal budget. Granted, I want to ensure that I get a certain level of service, like from police, fire and public works, and that we maintain a good school system, but I think a 4 percent increase in my taxes is too steep. How about you?