Behind the numbers

While the recent Amity Regional Schools budget referendum passed with substantial margins in both Orange and Woodbridge, in Bethany the measure squeaked through by a scant three votes. Is this a measure of how Bethany residents value education, or can the numbers be explained by other differences?

A comparison of the strategic town profiles of the three towns, available from the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, also accessible on the internet from the State of Connecticut website, reveals some striking financial differences between the three suburban enclaves.

The latest data, year 2001, reveals that the average per capita income in Woodbridge is the highest of the three towns at $59,507, a number which is $27,190 higher than the state average. In Orange, the figure is $42,348, or $10,031 more than the state number.

Bethany has the lowest per capita income of the three towns, $35,936, although at $3,619 over the state number, the average resident is by no means close to the poverty level. As with any average, though, many people will be above or below, not at, that number. Still, the difference in average individual income between Woodbridge and Bethany residents is a substantial, $23,571.

Although Orange residents on the whole earn only slightly more than Bethany residents, their business and industrial zones supplement residential property taxes, whereas Bethany's tax base is primarily residential.

The most recent figures (1999) from the profile on the towns' grand lists reveals that the top five assessments in Orange totaled $1,245,066,112. Bethany's top five totaled, $332,570,240 and Woodbridge fell between the two other towns at $787,345,408.

The top payers in Orange, Baker Properties and Bayer Corp, accounted for $36,069,375, or 29 percent of that figure. The highest payer in Bethany was the Connecticut Water Company, with an assessment of $3,888,630. Not counted in the grand list for the town of Bethany, but contributing a sizeable sum, is the PILOT, or payment in lieu of taxes, from the South Central Regional Authority, which is required by the legislature to pay on the value of its land and its dams. Much of the land (approximately 1,304 acres) is taxed as open space or farm property, a lower assessment than residential land, however, its buildings and dams with surrounding land are assessed at $5,931,200 and fees are paid at the regular rate.

Residential property accounts for 78 percent of Bethany's tax base (1999 figures), whereas in Orange it is 61.9 percent. The special tax levied for the Amity School System will hit Bethany at a mill rate of 1.42, Woodbridge at 1.012 and Orange at .9.

Bethany residents have less income and a greater property tax burden than the other towns in the regional district, yet pay the same amount per student. The election figures for the referendum might reflect the fact that they have less discretionary income and a higher tax burden.

Is there any tax relief in sight for Bethany? Read part two of this article next week, when the Bulletin examines the town's business and industrial zone. If you have ideas about improving the tax base, send them in for the article.