This year has seen a remarkable grassroots effort, spearheaded by resident Michael Carabetta, to limit the growth of Meriden’s property tax rate. An overwhelming 96 percent of city voters who went to the polls in a referendum voted to reject the City Council’s adopted budget, which would have meant a tax hike of about $200 for the average homeowner.
Then the Finance Committee went back to work and the council adopted a revised 2018-19 budget that cuts about $1.4 million in total spending. But that revision will save the average homeowner only about $54.
This is unlikely to satisfy the people who worked so hard to compel a referendum in the first place.
“I’m disgusted about this new tax proposal,” one resident said Thursday. “It’s terrible, injustice, awful.”
If the council approves the revised budget, then the taxpayers who forced the referendum “will do their best to make sure those who vote for it will never cast another vote,” another resident wrote to the Record-Journal.
"Our work is not done. I can't say that enough," City Council Majority Leader David Lowell responded.
The revised budget would cut $250,000 each from police, fire and education. More-radical ideas that have been floated include privatizing the municipal golf course, closing Fire Station 3 and imposing substantial across-the-board layoffs.
But even without those drastic measures, the $250,000 cuts will be painful. At the Police Department, for instance, Chief Jeffry Cossette has said the cut will mean moving three Neighborhood Initiative officers and one school resource officer to patrol.
Advocates of the NI program are not pleased, but this probably shows one of the downsides of changes that are made under a tight deadline.
We also need to remember that no municipality in Connecticut crafts its budgets in a vacuum, and recent state budgets have made major cuts to aid that towns and cities have long relied on. This is not just a Meriden problem; it’s a state problem.
Many of our cities have to fund the high cost of services — police, fire, education and much more — on a limited property base, and many of those property owners are seniors. Their houses may be paid for, in many cases, but Social Security’s cost-of-living adjustments don’t come close to keeping up with property tax hikes.
In the long run, it would seem to be the state that holds the key to easing the tax burden on property owners in Connecticut’s high-property-tax municipalities.