NORTH HAVEN — The town’s grand list grew almost half a percent this year, as town departments continue to submit budget requests for next fiscal year.
“Any growth is good growth, said Assessor Gary Johns said on Feb. 22, “and especially in this market, in Connecticut, it’s great to have any growth.”
The grand list includes all properties residential, commercial and industrial, personal property and motor vehicles.
The assessor’s office reports a $12.4 million increase over 2016. The grand list gross total is $2,936,123,943, up .42 percent from 2016, which was $2,923,708,262.
This year’s tax-exempt real estate comes in at $309,228,290, and total exemptions, which includes veterans, elderly and disabled residents, come to $129,691,668.
The taxable amount is $2,806,432,275, up .36 percent from 2016, which was $ 2,796,385,420.
Johns said increases are mostly coming from residential areas. There was an increase of $15.6 million in residential properties, but declines in industrial and commercial areas that makes up the difference, he said.
“Commercial industrial is the weakest point at this point, especially industrial,” he said. “We’re reflecting Connecticut. Fortunately our personal property accounts are still pretty healthy.”
Motor vehicles are up about $4.5 million, mostly passenger vehicles, which can show disposable income available to people.
“It’s a good barometer,” Johns said, “because you can see, when were deeper into the recession years, we were having declines in motor vehicles.”
The grand list year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. Property assessed on Oct. 1 is a snapshot of whatever the property is valued at on Oct. 1, and carries through the entire year unless significant changes to property like new construction.
When the grand list increases, it raises the amount of tax base the finance department can use to calculate the mill rate. The current mill rate is 30.53.
“We’ve got 10 weeks to figure out what mill rate we’re going to present to the public based on all of the requests,” said First Selectman Michael Freda on Tuesday.
Most town departments have submitted budget requests to the Board of Finance for the 2018-19 fiscal year.
The current year’s budget is $96,566,811. In January, the Board of Selectmen recommended to the Board of Finance the budget not increase by more than 1 to 1.5 percent, which Freda, who also sits on the finance board, said not realistic anymore.
“There’s probably almost $4 million worth of incremental requests,” he said.
Freda said the No. 1 issue statewide in planning for the next fiscal year is taxes.
“In an environment where the state is struggling and municipal aid continues to get cut back across the state,” Freda said, “it’s very challenging for us in local government to try to maintain the service model, do the things we’ve done, as the cost of those services goes up, and try to have a reasonable mill rate.”
Some municipalities have already announced mill rates increases to account for decline in state revenue.
“We’re not at that point here, we’re still going through the process,” Freda said. “We’ve balanced nine consecutive budgets here and delivered approximately four surpluses.”
Although the town anticipates cuts in state aid, it’s too early to tell by how much. The numbers continue to fluctuate, Freda said, and any state revenue amount is speculative at this time.
“We don’t know what the end result is going to be,” he said.
The town is requesting a waiver from the state on uses of the municipal revenue sharing account money.
The biggest challenge this year could be maintaining education services and programs, which accounts for 53 percent of the current budget.
The Board of Education is scheduled to present its proposed budget Saturday at Town Hall. Freda said he anticipates a 4.02 percent increase, almost $2 million, just to maintain the current level of school services.
School district administrators did not return calls for comment by press time.
He called it a “symbol” for what municipal government and school district are going through.
“Just to maintain there’s an inherent increase,” he said.
The Board of Finance is expected to finalize a budget March 21. A public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. April 3 and a town meeting 7 p.m. May 7, both at North Haven High School. Budgets are approved by referendum, usually the third week of May.