Milford taxes may go down, not up, with next budget

Residents will see their taxes actually go down if 2016-17 budget numbers discussed this week stay the same until the end of the budget process.

Tax reductions are few and far between. Brian Lema, finance board chairman, said that for all his years on the finance board he doesn’t remember seeing one.

Mayor Ben Blake reminded him there was a tax reduction in 2009, after the Board of Aldermen made significant cuts to the budget that the finance board had forwarded to them. But again, it’s an anomaly. One resident and political pundit at the time termed the 2009 tax cut “historic,” saying there hadn’t been a drop in taxes in the previous 45 years.

The Board of Finance held its technical discussion on the annual budget proposal Thursday night. Going into the meeting, it was already looking like there might be little to no tax increase for 2016-17.

The Board of Education’s proposed budget carries less than a 1% increase for 2016-17. The mayor’s plan carries a 1.9% spending increase. Together, the proposed budget for 2016-17 is $205,126,893, up $2,946,221 from the current $202,180,672, or 1.46%.

Mayor Ben Blake has said increased revenue, including a higher grand list and state grants, would likely offset that spending increase and result in no tax hike for residents.

But updates to anticipated state funds made the predictions even rosier Thursday night. There are reductions expected in some state grants, including about $7,000 less in education transportation funds, and $4,000 less than anticipated in Education Cost Sharing funds — plus $360,000 less in a state realty grant, which is the state’s payment in lieu of taxes on property it owns in Milford.

But on the flip side, city officials expect to get $2.7 million in sales tax revenue from the state that it hadn’t factored into the budget.

“That’s a $1.8 million net increase to revenue,” said Finance Director Peter Erodici after reviewing revenue changes with the Board of Finance Thursday.

Erodici and Mayor Blake said the aldermen, who will begin their budget review next, will have to keep an eye on the governor’s office in case those numbers change.
Will they cut the spending plan?
During the finance board’s technical budget discussion, board members often give some clue as to where and if they will make cuts to the proposal before handing it off to the aldermen. The finance board is scheduled to vote on the budget Wednesday, March 2.

There was some talk Thursday night about cutting the Board of Education budget request, one that School Supt. Dr. Elizabeth Feser described earlier in the budget process as carrying one of the lowest proposed increases in years.

Finance board member Joseph Castignoli suggested cutting $90,000 from the schools’ natural gas account. According to Chief Operations Officer James Richetelli Jr., there is $677,000 budgeted this year, but that account is projected to be $90,000 short. The Board of Education has asked for $181,000 more in the 2016-17 budget, and Castignoli said those numbers don’t make sense to him.

Board member Joseph Fitzpatrick didn’t target any one area to cut, but he said he thinks a .86% hike is too high. “I want to come in at .6,” Fitzpatrick said.

Chairman Lema said he thinks the overall school budget proposal “is reasonable.”

But he said that $40,000 budgeted for half a school resource officer can come out because the city didn’t put the other half in its portion of the budget — the city and school budgets split the cost of the school resource officers.

Lema mentioned several other reductions he thought could be made to the school budget.

While the finance board members seemed to be leaning toward cuts to the school spending plan, Mayor Blake urged caution.

Anticipating reductions in state money for social service agencies, Blake said that could result in higher out-of-district tuitions that the school board has to pay for outplaced students. He also noted that St. Gabriel School is closing, and that could mean 100 more public school students next year.

The finance board made some technical corrections and changes in various other parts of the budget, but didn’t comment on significant reductions other than to the Board of Education’s plan.

The board did not favor, however, increasing funds the city gives each year to the Borough of Woodmont. Borough officials had asked for $452,000, up from $220,000 in the current budget, and finance board members said the borough was looking to fund some capital improvement projects. But the finance board seemed likely to go with the mayor’s recommendation of $230,000 for the borough in 2016-17.