MERIDEN — Residents rejected the City Council’s 2018-19 $198-million budget Wednesday, overturning a 4.66 percent tax increase.
Across the board, the message from nearly 6,000 voters was clear.
“I don’t want the taxes to go up,” said Sue Friend. “They are high enough. They are too high.”
Friend was among 6,259 residents who cast a vote at Maloney High School or Lincoln Middle School. It is the first time the budget has gone to referendum since a 1996 City Charter change allowed the process. A total of 5,999 residents, 96 percent, voted to reject the budget and 260 voted to keep the spending plan, according to election moderators. The count included 158 absentee ballots.
Wednesday’s vote was the result of a grassroots effort spearheaded by resident Michael Carabetta, who along with his supporters collected the 2,779 signatures needed to force a referendum. Carabetta and his supporters erupted in cheers after hearing the vote totals at Maloney’s Pub.
“I’m happy for everybody that helped me out and I’m really proud that the taxpayers in Meriden heard what I was doing and actually stood up and did what was right for them,” Carabetta said. “It’s really empowering and I’m excited for what this does for the future.”
Carabetta hoped the cuts would come evenly across all city departments.
At the polls, residents were asked “Shall the 2018/19 city budget be rejected?” with a “yes” answer being a vote to reject the budget. The Charter requires more than 50 percent of voters in the last municipal election – 4,111 residents – vote to reject the budget for it to return to the City Council for changes.
City Council Majority Leader David Lowell, who did not vote, said the City Council Finance Committee will discuss changes at its Aug. 6 meeting. There will also be a public hearing before a new budget is voted on by the council.
“It’s a matter of what services are going to get cut and how deeply...public safety and any other services,” Lowell said. \
Republican Minority Leader Dan Brunet, an opponent of the tax increase, joined Carabetta and his supporters at Maloney’s Pub to celebrate. He voted against the budget in May and again Wednesday.
“It’s an astounding vote total,” Brunet said. “...the public realizes it’s detrimental to home values and economic growth.”
Mayor Kevin Scarpati also voted to reject the budget.
“The people have spoken,” Scarpati said, “I voted today after hearing from many members of the public...their frustrations and concerns with the budget. I understand the need to take a closer look at this thing and that’s exactly what I will be doing.”