September 29, 2013 03:19PM
By Andrew Ragali
WALLINGFORD — Both mayoral candidates agree that the town’s mill rate, used to determine property taxes, has remained relatively stable and low compared to other municipalities in the region. But Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr., a Republican, and Town Councilor Jason Zandri, a Democrat, disagree on the relevance of the mill rate when examining budget practices.
The current mill rate, at 26.22, is slightly lower than that of 2004, at 26.40. A mill is equal to $1 of tax for each $1,000 of assessment. Every year, the mill rate is adjusted as determined by the town’s budget. For example, increasing the mill rate is a means of balancing the budget if costs are rising and the town needs more tax revenue.
Citing the mill rate and other issues, Republicans have called the town an oasis in a desert of economic uncertainty.
After a state-mandated revaluation, the mill rate dipped to 21.25 in 2005. But the mill rate has increased every year since the 2005 revaluation, Zandri said. Another revaluation was done in 2010. They are required by the state every five years.
Through revaluation the tax burden has shifted from businesses to residents, Zandri said. It doesn’t matter if the mill rate stays relatively consistent if home values are increased through revaluation, creating larger property tax bills, he argued.
But property value isn’t something the town can control, Dickinson said.
“Your property is valued based upon what the market shows,” he said.
While Zandri said residents need to look beyond the mill rate when determining the budgetary success of the town, Dickinson said “I don’t think the mill rate is irrelevant.”
“Typically, the mill rate is used to determine where you are relative to anyone else,” Dickinson said.
While Zandri agrees the mill rate is stable, he points to net property tax increases for both Dickinson and himself since 2006 as evidence that residents need to look further. Since 2006, Dickinson’s property taxes have increased by 13.59 percent, while Zandri’s taxes have increased by 19.42 percent, according to information provided by the Assessor’s Office.
Even with increase, “we’re not getting any more services” than surrounding towns, Zandri said.
Zandri cited the lack of technology at Town Hall, as an example. The town also doesn’t have trash pick-up, and hours have been cut at the transfer station, he said. The general appearance of town, specifically downtown parking lots and roads, is also something that should be getting more attention.
But Dickinson said the services Wallingford provides are generally on par with similar communities.
“I don’t think you can compare towns,” Dickinson added. “...Each town has its own fingerprint, its own identity.”
Dickinson said credit for the mill rate also goes to the Town Council. The average home in Wallingford is assessed at $191,000. Based on the current mill rate of 26.22, the 2012 tax bill for that property was $5,008.22.
“...We do our best to try to keep taxes stable,” Dickinson said. “If they must increase, we don’t increase them more than the cost of living.”
There needs to be new spending in certain areas to reduce costs, Zandri said. Paperwork that could be avoided in Town Hall with technology, for example, is “cost ineffectiveness,” he said.
“We need to do what we can to control costs, but we’re going to have to spend money,” Zandri said. “There are smarter ways of spending it.”
Instead of deferring updates until the unknown future, the town must commit to projects and execute them, Zandri said. If the town waits too long to tackle certain work, it will only get more costly, he said.
“If everyone is happy, that’s fine,” Zandri said. But taxes have gone up, he added, “I don’t care what the mill rate number is.”
“I do feel mill rates are certainly relevant” in determining the town’s success, Dickinson said.