Rossi presents West Haven council $162.86M budget that would avoid raising taxes, but with painful cuts
Mayor Nancy Rossi warned the City Council weeks ago that her recommended budget for fiscal 2018-2019 would be a painful one for the city — and the budget she presented to the council Thursday night, March 15, affirmed that warning.
Rossi forwarded the council a $162.86 million budget — with no proposed tax increase — that cut cityside spending by $311,042 and increased education spending by just $396,265.
In order to accomplish that, the budget eliminates 12 positions and reduces the hours of several other positions to save more than $1 million in salaries and benefits, Rossi said.
Among the cuts was one that essentially eliminated the West Haven Adult Day Center, which Rossi said had run deficits for several years running.
“I understand that this cut will cause significant disruption to the clients who participate in the program,” Rossi said. “Please know that my office will work to find placements in similar programs in the area for these individuals.”
The adult day center is a separate entity from the city-operated senior center.
The senior center — which already had absorbed participants from the Allingtown Senior Center, which closed last year — will not be affected by the cut to the adult day center, which is for seniors who need a higher level of care, Rossi said.
The $162.86 million recommended budget includes $90.02 million for education — a 0.4 percent increase over the current year, but down from $91.35 million requested by the Board of Education — and $72.83 million for city operations.
Council Chairman Ron Quagliani, D-at-large, set a public hearing on the budget for March 27 at 6:30 p.m. in the auditorium at Bailey Middle School.
“Obviously, I am not happy to stand in front of you tonight and deliver such a difficult budget, but the changes are badly needed and long overdue,” Rossi told the council. “My recommended budget will stabilize the city’s finances and create the foundation for fiscal responsibility.”
Rossi’s budget includes $9 million from the state Municipal Accountability Review Board, or MARB, which she said “will allow us to retire the deficit from fiscal year 2017 and fill the revenue gap created in last year’s approved budget.”
The city tax rate would remain at the current 35.26 mills for real estate and personal property and 37 for motor vehicles. Each mill equals $1 per $1,000 in assessed property value
The recommended budget would hold the tax rate for motor vehicles at 7 mills and allow 8 mills for the fire districts, bringing the total for motor vehicles to 45 mills, the state-allowed cap. Allingtown will see a 0.41-mill increase.
“The budget process this year was very difficult,” Rossi told the council in her budget message. “The city is dealing with a deficit for fiscal year 2017, a revenue shortfall in the current year of approximately $8 million, a grand list that is stagnant, a bond rating just above junk status, and a serious spending problem.
“My promise to the citizens of West Haven was to make fiscal responsibility and accountability the first priority,” Rossi said. “The budget presented to you this evening begins that process, reflecting that commitment.
“The proposed budget includes painful cuts, but does properly fund the health care line item, as well as other post-employment benefits,” she said.
“This budget does makes cuts to programs and requires sacrifice from many — but it does protect the taxpayers by not requiring higher taxes for city services or education,” Rossi said.
With regard to education funding, Rossi said, “I didn’t give them anywhere near what they wanted.” But “I’m giving them some because ... I support education,” she said. “I’ve always supported education.”
Council Finance Committee Chairwoman Louise Martone, D-10, said, “I’ll take a good look at it and see what cuts she made — and I think as a council,” members will look at what else they can do to improve West Haven’s position.
Martone said she worried about how the MARB will view the city’s decision to extend Winkle Bus Co.’s school bus contract rather than put it out to bid, given that Rossi’s budget relies on $9 million in funding that the MARB has to approve.
Council Minority Leader Richard DePalma, R-at-large, said he understood the need for cuts.
“I was brought up to believe that if you don’t have enough money to buy food, you don’t go out to dinner,” DePalma said. “It’s unfortunate ... but we’ve got to cut.”
Director of Finance Kevin McNabola told the council that the budget’s basic assumptions include a conservative tax collection rate that has been lowered from 98.6 percent this year to 98.4 percent next year.
They also include, among others, a $2.6 billion grand list that is essentially flat from the previous year and the elimination by the state of a $400,000 elderly tax credit reserve and an increase in the city’s educational cost sharing grant to $46.1 million, from $44.8 million this year.