MERIDEN — The City Council on Monday night voted to set the date of the budget referendum for July 18 during a meeting packed with residents voicing concerns about the proposed tax increase and a recent decision to cut funding for the Women and Families Center School Readiness program.
The referendum comes after a group of residents opposed to the looming 4.66 percent tax increase canvassed the city for weeks to collect the 2,779 signatures necessary to force a vote under the City Charter.
Polls to vote on the City Council’s adopted budget will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. July 18 at Maloney High School and Lincoln Middle School. The ballot question will state “Shall the 2018/19 city budget be rejected?” If more than 50 percent of voters from the last municipal elections – 4,111 residents – vote to reject the budget it will return to City Council for revision.
The City Council adopted a $197.9 million spending plan in May, which included about $130,000 in cuts made by Mayor Kevin Scarpati through his veto power. The budget requires a tax rate of 41.73 mills with an inner city tax rate of 43.90 mills. One mill is equal to $1 in tax for every $1,000 of assessed property value and the increase would mean about $200 in additional taxes for the average city homeowner.
Before the meeting, residents outside City Hall waved signs at oncoming traffic stating “Say no to the tax increase,” and “Broke and retired in Meriden.” The Council voted to extend public comment period to allow residents more time to speak. Michael Carabetta, who started the petition drive, called for an end to what he called political “gamesmanship” on the part of some councilors and questioned Majority Leader David Lowell’s previous statement that the council would like constructive input on cuts from residents.
“You have asked for our suggestions now in the paper after shutting down our suggestions in private,” Carabetta said. “You guys need to work together to figure this out and be fair to the taxpayers. Please listen to us when we say this isn’t right. It’s not fair. You do know how to do this. You know how to do your job. You don’t need our suggestions. That’s a cop out.”
Later in the meeting, Lowell thanked Carabetta and his supporters for their grassroots effort and said resident input would be “critically important” to the Council’s decisions should the budget return to them for revision.
“You don’t have to have all the elements of every line item in the budget, because our job is crystal clear- to listen to you,” Lowell said.
In other business, several dozen residents attended the meeting to protest the School Readiness Council’s decision to eliminate an affordable daycare program at Women and Families Center. The move will result in the lay off of the childcare director and 10 employees.