The increase might have been much higher: About a month ago, taxes on that typical home were expected to go up $329 a year, or $27 a month, because the mill rate was predicted to jump from 26.28 to 27.79. Instead, when the Board of Aldermen adopted a 2014-15 budget Wednesday night, the new mill rate came in at 27.22, which is a little more than a half a mill lower than initially expected.
A mill is the amount of money people pay in taxes for every $1,000 in assessed property they own.
Mayor Ben Blake said a spending freeze put in place several months ago helped bring the mill rate down, and the Board of Aldermen cut more than $1 million from the spending plan that had been approved earlier in the budget process.
We brought it down “significantly,” Blake said with a smile Wednesday night just before Finance Director Peter Erodici calculated and announced the new mill rate.
“Because of spending controls, we were able to have a healthy fund balance,” Blake said.
With a healthy fund balance, the mayor suggested moving $4 million — instead of the $2 million initially proposed — into the 2014-15 budget to offset taxes.
Overall, the $198 million spending plan represents a 2.2% spending increase over the current year, much of which Blake said was unavoidable.
Increases in pension contributions, debt payments and health care costs, plus wage increases, account for $5 million of the increased costs.
The city put in about $4 million to cover city pensions, which is about double what it put in the current year’s budget. Alderman Dan German (R) suggested cutting $1 million from that, but Blake and Erodici said that would put the city’s bond rating at jeopardy.
The pension contribution increased because of a “complicated” scenario involving the economic downtown of 2009, which the city was able to accommodate for over a five-year period, Erodici explained.
“It is a required contribution,” Erodici told German, explaining that if the fund is shorted in the 2014-15 budget, the money will have to be added to the following year’s budget.
Blake said, “It’s hard to stomach” but advised that the funds be allocated.
Cuts to the Board of Finance-approved budget were varied, and some were surprising and some were deep.
The aldermen cut $300,000 from the Board of Education budget request; they cut $54,000 eamarked for a new building inspector and $78,000 for a new accountant, all of which the finance board had recommended.
The aldermen took $50,000 from the budget that would have gone toward making the open space manager, Steve Johnson, a regular city employee. Johnson is now paid through special open space funds within the budget, and a number of environmentalists had lobbied prior to the budget vote to make him a full-fledged city employee so the job would be more stable.
The aldermen also voted to cut $50,000 from the waste removal allocation because the city expects to save money on its garbage disposal fees after a new contract is signed.
Republican Alderman Anthony Giannattasio suggested trimming $100,000 from the waste allocation, but Democratic Alderman Bryan Anderson said he thought that was too deep a cut.
Blake told Giannattasio that if he took too much from the department it could result in elimination of one of the city’s two bulk trash pickups. Giannattasio said the Republicans were not looking to do that, and after some discussion agreed to the $50,000 reduction.
Republican Ray Vitali tried to add $5,000 to the $350,000 grant to Bridges, the local mental health agency. The motion got some support but not enough to be approved.
The group Milford Progress lost its $10,000 allocation on the recommendation of Democratic Alderman Greta Stanford and Vitali. Stanford said she was willing to vote for the allocation, but she said 40% of the allocation goes toward administrative costs, and she said, “They haven’t made any progress, or not much.”
Milford Progress has been working on getting signs for downtown Milford, and Alderman Nick Veccharelli said permits may have been holding them up. “It looks like they’re close now,” Veccharelli said.
Alderman Susan Shaw said the group does good work, but she said that since Milford Progress has almost $50,000 that it hasn’t spent yet, the group can go one year without $10,000 from the city.
After all was said and done and changes made, the budget passed with a vote of 9-6. All the Republicans — Bier, Michael Casey, Susan Fontana, German, Giannattasio and Vitali voted against it. The Democrats voted for it.
The new budget goes into effect July 1.