Milford's taxes will go down fourth year in a row

The City of Milford’s taxes will go down slightly for the fourth year in a row, but while Democrats raved about that news, two Republican aldermen voted against the city’s 2019-20 budget, saying taxes could have gone down more.
The city’s 2019-20 $216.55 million budget was adopted Wednesday night with a vote of 12 to 2, meaning that Milford’s tax rate will drop in 2019-20 by .03 mills, from the current 27.74 mills to 27.71 mills.
With that .11 percent tax reduction, residents with a typical home with a market value of $311,070 will see a tax cut of about $7.
“This is the fourth tax cut in a row, back to back to back,” Mayor Ben Blake said, calling it “historic and unprecedented.”
But Republican Aldermen Anthony Giannattasio and Ray Vitali disagreed with several new positions included in the budget, and the mayor upping his assistant’s salary by about $20,000, so they voted against the spending plan.
The salary for the mayor’s assistant goes from $70,328 to $91,147 in the 2019-20 budget, and that drew the most dissension from Republicans on the board.
Justin Rosen took over the position formerly held by Steve Fournier in January. But while Fournier was a mayoral assistant, Blake said Rosen was hired as his chief of staff, and the job has increased responsibilities than it had under Fournier.
The mayor said the job was largely handling constituent matters before, such as fielding calls from residents with complaints or concerns, and now the job is more focused on liaison work with departments and city boards and commissions.
Blake argued that the position as it is described now “demands a higher level of skill than we previously had in that position.”
Rosen, a former city alderman, previously worked for the Connecticut General Assembly as a legislative aide, clerk of the Banks Committee and policy analyst for a former Speaker of the House, and he worked for the American College of Surgeons as an advocate on the state level and a lobbyist on the federal level.
While Democrats agreed the job has been elevated and merits the higher pay, Giannattasio argued that the mayor implemented a spending freeze in recent months, and he said it’s not fair that departments have to hold the line on spending while the mayor ups the pay for this position.
“I think you have to lead by example,” Giannattasio said. “This is not Washington. We do not have chiefs of staff.”
Giannattasio called the job a “manufactured political position.”
The Republicans’ effort to lower the chief of staff pay failed, as did attempts to make cuts elsewhere, including a new human resources assistant, a new construction project manager in the public works department, and some funding in the street lighting account.
Giannattasio also had an issue with the mayor transferring $9 million from the city’s undesignated account to keep taxes from rising, which he said is $4 million more than was transferred last year. But the mayor said Milford has been ending its fiscal year with a healthy surplus, and that it’s right to return that to the taxpayers.
The aldermen didn’t squabble over the Board of Education budget, which in the past has been a point of contention. Republicans and Democrats quickly and unanimously approved the school board’s request of $95.08 million, which marks an increase of 1.89% over the current year’s budget.
The total budget plan adopted Wednesday night calls for spending $216.55 million, an increase of $6.36 million, or 3% over the current year’s $210.19 million. While costs increase, the mayor has said a very healthy grand list has helped keep taxes stable.
There were a number of technical changes to the budget Wednesday night, including to funds expected from the state. The mayor said anticipated revenue from the state is based on a “best guess,” since the state hasn’t adopted its budget yet.