BRISTOL – The Board of Finance is considering a 1.34 mill increase in the tax rate for 2019-20. That would put the new tax rate at 38.22 mills.
Comptroller Diane Waldron said the impact for the average city taxpayer would be a tax increase of $175. Based on figures from the city assessor, for a house assessed at $123,530, the tax increase would be $165, and for a motor vehicle assessed at $7,100, the increase would be $10, she explained.
Waldron went over the proposed city budget for next year as it currently stands. The total budget would be $201.7 million, a 3.75 percent increase over the current year.
She said the 2018 grand list showed growth across the real estate, personal property, and motor vehicle categories, for a total 0.72 percent increase. This is expected to bring in over $1 million in new tax revenue for the city, at the current tax rate. The rest has to be made up through the higher tax rate.
The city departments had requested a total increase of 6.75 percent, which the finance board reduced to 2.84 percent.
The school budget increase was reduced from 7.71 percent, which the Board of Education had requested, to 3.82 percent. The school portion of the budget is now $115.6 million.
Waldron said the finance board decided some money could be saved on the school side in lower expected health care costs, through teachers that might be retiring by the end of this school year, and in cutting $900,000 in contingency funds for special education, among other items.
John Smith, finance board chairperson, noted that if trends continue the schools will likely end up coming back to ask for additional funds for special education.
Smith and Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu said the city needs to plan strategically to level out tax increases from year to year.
Zoppo-Sassu showed a graph of budget increase percentages from the last 12 years, showing a zigzag from highs of close to 4.5 percent in some years to close to zero or even negative numbers other years.
“One of our main issues and responsibilities, from a board of finance perspective, is to avoid what this graph shows and have a more stable and planned approach to our budgets,” she said.
These highs and lows don’t provide stability for anybody, “whether a business owner, a tax payer, someone living on a fixed income, or someone looking to evaluate a community that they might potentially move to for a business or personal reasons, in terms of what we’re investing in ourselves,” she said.
Board member Cheryl Thibeault said the graph doesn’t take into account that some years the city was faced with big projects like structural reconstruction of major roads, excess snow removal, implementing all-day kindergarten, etc. “There’s a story behind each one of those numbers,” she said.
Smith said he fears that if the city doesn’t adequately fund the cost of education and other public services that five or 10 years down the road “the cost of these things is going to increase so dramatically, because we haven’t made the investments in ourselves, that there may not be enough taxpayers to fund the kinds of things this city has to do.”
The finance board voted to cancel its scheduled April 8 budget workshop and meet instead on April 15, at 6 p.m. in the Council Chambers, to further discuss the budget.
As of now, the finance board is on track to vote on the budget at its April 23 meeting. The joint meeting between the finance board and the City Council to adopt a final budget is May 20. Waldron noted that the charter allows for the process to be extended up to the first Friday in June if needed.
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.