MERIDEN — City Council this week passed a $208.87 million spending plan for the coming fiscal year, which includes a reduced tax rate following a city-wide reassessment of properties. city.
The council voted along party lines, with its eight Democrats voting for the spending plan and its three Republican members and We the People adviser Bob Williams Jr. voting against.
While the budget would increase spending, it also comes with a reduced tax rate of 32.99 mills per $1,000 of assessed value. The current city rate is 40.86 mils.
Mayor Kevin Scarpati, before asking for a roll-call vote, described it as a flawed but responsible budget.
“It’s not a perfect budget. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a perfect budget. I don’t think I will ever see a perfect budget. But this one is, I think, accountable and takes our responsibility to the taxpayers,” Scarpati said during Monday night’s meeting.
Scarpati, earlier in his remarks, acknowledged real estate revaluations that have been heavily criticized by some members of the public.
“Revaluation, as noted by the public, is always a challenge, because it’s a snapshot of where we are today,” Scarpati said. “We are in a crazy market. Incomes increase. Inflation is at its highest for 40 years.
Scarpati said the city needs to ensure the assessment appeal process is “done in a fair and equitable manner.”
The mayor said the median household tax bill would rise by less than $50. He added, “…providing all of these services that we talked about is awesome. Kudos to our department heads who also made sacrifices along the way.
Councilwoman Sonya Jelks, leader of the majority party, described the spending plan as “about as reasonable a budget as we can get right now.” Jelks noted that for the past three years the city has not seen any tax increases.
“Unfortunately, we have inflation that continues to grow. The cost to the city – which needs to be absorbed,” Jelks said.
Jelks, during his remarks, acknowledged concerns about seniors and low-income residents.
“There are many programs. We need to do a better job of making sure that we disclose to the public what the programs are so that if there are seniors and other low-income people struggling, we can provide those services,” Jelks said. “…Please, I implore members of council as well as the public, if any of our community members anticipate or experience any difficulties, whether tax or non-tax, you should contact the city and let us know if we can help you.”
Regarding the spending plan itself, Jelks said: “I am asking this body tonight to do one responsible thing – we support a budget that we know will meet the needs of the community.”
Several councilors who supported the budget noted that it fully funds the Board of Education’s budget request.
Meanwhile, Councilor Dan Brunet, leader of the council’s minority caucus, said what bothers him about the budget isn’t the per-mille rate, but the spending increases. He said these would have “long-term exponential effects that are negative”.
Brunet suggested the city look to reduce budget demand through small cuts across all departments.
Scarpati, in a brief exchange with Brunet, asks if the advisor has any specific discounts he would like to offer.
“I would go either way,” Brunet said. “I don’t want to stay here until midnight to make amendments that will just be voted down. So that’s where I would be standing right now.
Figures in the overall spending plan show an increase of more than $6 million, or 3%, from the city’s current budget of $202.86 million. Its passage comes as city officials seek to finalize the state-mandated reassessment of properties across the city.
Owner appeals of these reassessments are ongoing.
City assessor Melinda Fonda, in an email to the Record-Journal sent the day after the budget vote, said the Assessments Appeal Board had been granted an extension, until mid-May, to deliberate on the calls.
“Once council’s tasks are completed, the assessor’s office will make any adjustments requested by council and provide a final/revised list number to city management,” Fonda wrote.
On Monday evening, a dozen residents addressed the council in person or submitted written comments. No resident who commented on the spending plan or who discussed the city’s recent real estate reassessments and ongoing appeals spoke favorably of either.
They included Joseph Vollano, a current member of the Board of Assessment Appeals who is running as a Republican for the 13th Senate District seat. Vollano noted that the appeals process has so far lowered revaluations by about $3.5 million. He said taxpayers who own homes in the city are “desperate for help.”
It’s of particular concern for seniors and low-income residents, who he said would not be able to afford the rent increases their landlords are likely to impose.
“We’re in the perfect storm here,” Vollano said. “You have high gas prices, high food prices… foreclosures are coming. Roaming – the peaks are coming. You have a responsibility to the taxpayer to make sure they can afford to live here.
According to figures shared by city officials with council members on Monday, the average residential property has seen its estimated value increase by 35%.
During discussions that night, Councilman Michael Carabetta, who voted against the budget, asked city officials what impact the appealed assessments would have on revenue and the proposed mill rate.
CFO Kevin McNabola, in response to Carabetta’s question, noted that the city’s big slate’s aggregate value is over $3.3 billion.
McNabola said, “$3.5 million really won’t move the needle much.”
In another action, council voted 10 to 2, with Brunet and Carabetta voting against, to approve zoning changes requested by Mark Development, to the developer’s 43-acre parcel of land at 850 Murdock Ave. The amended zoning would allow manufacturing on site, while mandating 80-foot setbacks and 50-foot buffers from neighboring residences.
Journalist Michael Gagné can be reached at [email protected]