MERIDEN — The City Council this week adopted a $208.87 million spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year that includes a reduced tax rate following a citywide revaluation of property.
The council voted along party lines, with its eight Democrats voting for the spending plan and its three Republican members and We the People Councilor Bob Williams Jr. voting against it.
While the budget would increase spending, it also comes with a reduced tax rate of 32.99 mills per $1,000 of assessed value. The city’s current rate is 40.86 mills.
Mayor Kevin Scarpati, prior to calling for a roll call vote, described it as an imperfect yet responsible budget.
“It’s not a perfect budget. I don’t think I have ever seen a perfect budget. I don’t think I ever will see a perfect budget. But this is one I think is responsible and delivers on our responsibility to the taxpayers,” Scarpati said during the Monday night meeting.
Scarpati, earlier in his remarks, acknowledged the property revaluations that have been sharply criticized by some members of the public.
“Revaluation, as has been noted by the public, is always a challenge, because it’s a snapshot of where we are today,” Scarpati said. “We are in a crazy market. Revenues are increasing. Inflation is at a 40-year high.”
Scarpati said the city has to make sure the assessment appeals process is “done so fairly and equitably.”
The mayor said the tax bill for the median household will increase by under $50. He added, “providing all those services that we talked about is impressive. Kudos to our department heads who also made sacrifices along the way.”
City Councilor Sonya Jelks, the majority party leader, described the spending plan as “about as reasonable a budget we can get at this time.” Jelks noted over the past three years the city did not see any tax increases.
“Unfortunately, we have inflation that continues to grow. The cost to the city — that has to be absorbed,” Jelks said.
Jelks, during her remarks, acknowledged concerns about senior citizens and low income residents.
“There are many programs. We have to do a better job of making sure that we get out to the public what the programs are so that if there are seniors and other low income people struggling, we can provide those services,” Jelks said. “Please, I implore council members as well as the public, if any of our community members are anticipating or experiencing any difficulties, whether it’s tax related or not, you have to reach out to the city and let us know if we can help you.”
On the spending plan itself, Jelks said, “I ask tonight that this body does a responsible thing — we support a budget that we know will support the needs of the community.”
Several councilors who supported the budget noted it fully funds the Board of Education’s budget request. Meanwhile, Councilor Dan Brunet, the council’s minority caucus leader, said what bothered him about the budget was not the mill rate — but the spending increases. He said those would have “long-term exponential effects that are negative.” Brunet suggested the city look to reduce the budget request through small reductions across every department.
Scarpati, in a brief exchange with Brunet, asked if the councilor had any specific reductions he would like to propose.
“I would go across the board,” Brunet said. “I do not want to sit here until midnight making amendments that are just going to get shot down. So that’s where I would stand right now.”
Figures outlined in the overall spending plan show a more than $6 million, or 3%, increase over the city’s current $202.86 million budget. Its passage comes as city officials look to finalize the state-mandated revaluation of properties across the city.
Property owners’ appeals of those revaluations are ongoing.
City Assessor Melinda Fonda, in an email to the Record-Journal sent the day after the budget vote, stated the Board of Assessment Appeals has been granted an extension, until mid-May, to deliberate on appeals.
“Upon completion of the board duties the Assessor’s Office will make any adjustments as directed by the board and will provide a final/revised grand list number to City Management,” Fonda wrote.
On Monday night, around a dozen residents either addressed the council in-person or had submitted written comments. No residents who commented on the spending plan or who discussed the city’s recent property revaluations and ongoing appeals spoke favorably of either.
They included Joseph Vollano, a current member of the Board of Assessment Appeals who is running as a Republican for the 13th Senate district seat. Vollano noted the appeals process has so far driven down revaluations by around $3.5 million. He said taxpayers who own homes in the city are “in desperate need of help.”
It is especially concerning for senior citizens and low income residents, who he said would not be able to afford rent increases their landlords would be likely to impose.
“We’re in the perfect storm here,” Vollano said. “You have high gas prices, high food cost … the foreclosures are coming. The homelessness — spikes are coming. You guys have the responsibility to the taxpayer to make sure they can afford to live here.”
According to figures shared by city officials with council members on Monday, the average residential property saw an increase of 35% in its assessed value.
During that night’s discussions, councilor Michael Carabetta, who voted against the budget, asked city officials how the appealed valuations would impact top line revenues and the proposed mill rate.
Finance Director Kevin McNabola, in response to Carabetta’s question, noted that the city’s overall grand list value is more than $3.3 billion.
McNabola said, “$3.5 million is really not going to move the needle much at all.”
In other action, the council voted 10 to 2, with Brunet and Carabetta voting against, to approve zoning amendments requested by Mark Development, regarding the developer’s 43-acre land parcel at 850 Murdock Ave. The amended zoning would allow manufacturing on the site, while imposing 80-foot setbacks and 50-foot buffers from neighboring residences.
Reporter Michael Gagne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.