MERIDEN — The former head of the Meriden GOP is gathering signatures to potentially force a public referendum requiring city councilors to revisit the $208.87 million budget.
Earlier this month, the council voted 8 to 4 to adopt the spending plan across party lines — with Democrats voting in favor and Republicans, joined by We the People Councilor Bob Williams Jr., voting against.
But petition organizer Sean McDonald said the effort is not political, and aims to help all taxpayers who will pay more because of revalued properties.
According to previously shared figures, the average residential property saw an increase of 35% in its assessed value. However, officials stated bills for the average taxpayer would not increase substantially, given the reduced mill rates. The mill rate dropped from the current 40.86 mills for properties located in the first district to 32.99 mills per $1,000.
The new mill rate in the second taxation district will be 2.03 mills higher than in the first district. So for real estate, properties will be taxed at a rate of 35.02 mills per $1,000.
But many taxpayers have said the increase in property values, even with the lower mill rate, are daunting. McDonald and others also have concerns for senior citizens on fixed incomes and renters with landlords who may pass any increase to tenants.
“Our property revaluations are through the roof,” McDonald said. “There is no balance. People will be forced to make decisions about paying their rent or buying food.”
McDonald doesn’t have a specific area where he would like to see reductions, but wants to see city councilors go line by line. Whether it’s salaries or positions, cuts need to be made, he said.
“The spending in our town is out of control,” McDonald said.
He has until June 13 to get about 3,000 signatures or 10 percent of registered voters, said City Clerk Denise Grandy. The City Clerk’s office has 10 days to verify the signatures. A referendum is set no less than 20 days and no more than 30 days from verification. If everything checks out, the first date would be July 5, but because many voters may be away for the holiday, Grandy set it for July 12. Voting would take place at Lincoln Middle School and Maloney High School.
Republican City Councilor Michael Carabetta organized a similar referendum effort in 2018 and backs McDonald’s push to bring it to a vote. While the 2018 referendum led the council to revisit its budget and ultimately make over $1 million in cuts, Carabetta feared the council undid that progress by voting to essentially reverse some of those cuts, bonding projects, and using a portion of the $3.4 million that Eversource owed to the city.
But the public support for the effort helped propel Carabetta to win a council seat in 2019.
“I’m always going to help out and support someone trying to make a difference,” Carabetta said about McDonald’s effort. “The revaluation meant more taxes to homeowners. Unfortunately, the reval came at a bad time for most of us. Hopefully, we get a chance to take a closer look.”
Carabetta hopes to focus on lots of individual line items that add up before taking a look at major spending cuts on positions.
Mayor Kevin Scarpati said that while he “welcomes the opportunity to sit down with the council” if the referendum passes, there are logistical concerns that need to be worked out.
“One issue is the tax bills that get mailed in June,” Scarpati said.
He recalled in 2018, the city sent out the first round in June based on the previous year’s mill rate. But the problem this time is the revaluation would mean a large degree of recalculation, rebilling and possible refunds.
“That portion of it still has to be ironed out,” Scarpati said.
Democrat Michael Rohde said he favors the approved spending plan but is waiting to see the next step.
“I believe it was a fair budget,” Rohde said. “Let’s see if Sean gets the required signatures.”
Reporter Mary Ellen Godin can be reached at email@example.com.