City Hall staffing request draws scrutiny as some Meriden residents face higher tax bills

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MERIDEN — City Manager Timothy Coon’s $208.4 million proposed budget includes a reduced tax rate of 32.88 mills, down from the current rate of 40.86, officials explained during a City Council Finance Committee meeting this week.

Following a recent revaluation of property, the proposed mill rate would effectively result in tax increases for some homeowners and minor decreases for others, Finance Director Kevin McNabola said.

The average appraised value of a single-family home jumped from $175,000 to $228,850 due to revaluation, according to McNabola. Under the current tax rate of 40.86 mills, a home with an assessed value of $122,000, which is 70% of the appraised value, would result in a tax bill of $5,005. That same homeowner would pay $5,268 in 2023 based on a revised assessment of $160,195 at the proposed 32.88 mill rate, or a 5.32 percent increase.

“A better statistic to look at is the median value, which is a little more palpable,” McNabola said.

The median-value home increased 24 percent to $216,000. At 32.88 mills, the tax rate goes down $22 to $4,098.  But there are variables including age, location, improvements, and more that can impact value. 

“Any property that’s value has gone up above 25 percent is going to have a tax increase,” McNabola said. “The median value is where most people reside.” 

The mill rate is the number of tax dollars on each $1,000 of assessed property value.

The mill rate for inner district taxpayers, who receive municipal trash collection, would be 2.03 mills higher than the outer area, McNabola said.

Coon’s budget proposal represents a 2.8% spending increase. Overall, the city’s Grand List increased 25% due primarily to higher home and motor vehicle values.

Personnel, cost concerns

Some Finance Committee members balked at proposed salary increases and additional personnel in the city manager’s office and the tax assessor’s office. Coon’s budget proposal calls for reinstating a long vacant assistant city manager position to take on some of the daily operational tasks now taking up an excessive amount of Coon’s time. The position will cost an additional $43,000 after eliminating a clerk position in the city manager’s office for a total salary of $130,000. The city has not had an assistant city manager for 30 years.

“This is going to put the city on the right path whether I’m here or not,” Coon said. “Our department heads are maxed out as it is. We are doing a lot more with a lot less. As a manager, that is a leadership position and it takes a significant amount of time.”

Mayor Kevin Scarpati strongly opposed reinstituting the assistant city manager position, saying he has taken on much of Coon’s public appearance responsibilities and other tasks could be delegated better. Scarpati has line item veto power as mayor.

“I’m doing much of the public stuff that you don’t have to do,” Scarpati said. “We need to get more efficient in our operations and work smarter not harder. We are creating a hole given some of the decisions that have been made and some of them are personnel.”

Scarpati pointed specifically to complaints related to the emergency communications center and tax assessor’s office, saying they have led to time consuming meetings and other actions.

“The amount of complaints we’ve received have increased,” Scarpati said. “Putting the right people in the right positions could alleviate a lot of that. That takes up our time. Much of that is driven by the wrong personnel being in the wrong positions. Putting people in the right positions could alleviate that.” 

Democratic City Councilor Bruce Fontanella echoed Scarpati’s concerns about public complaints with personnel in the tax assessor’s office. The budget also calls for customer service training in the assessor’s office, in addition to a new deputy tax assessor post at $79,000.

“I’d like to make the tax assessor’s office more taxpayer friendly,” Fontanella said. “I get more more calls from taxpayers complaining about the assessor’s office being rude, unfriendly, and demeaning. That can’t happen in a department of the city. We have to have good relations with our taxpayers and a change in the attitude that comes out of city assessors office.”

Tax Assessor Melinda Fonda, who was hired in 2019, said through an office employee this week that she did not attend the meeting and would not comment.

‘Shift in culture’

Scarpati does not approve of a new deputy tax assessor.

“Absolutely not,” Scarpati stated in a text. “More staff in that office is not the answer...a shift in culture is what’s needed. A larger focus on customer service and a more welcoming environment.”

Democratic City Councilors Michael Rohde and Sonya Jelks supported the idea of an assistant city manager, arguing that as larger projects come up, more help is needed running the day-to-day operations. 

The Finance Committee heard presentations from Coon, the finance department, economic development, and planning and enforcement. Human resources and the city clerks budgets were postponed.

The first public hearing on the budget must be held before April 15. 

mgodin@record-journal.com203-317-2255Twitter: @Cconnbiz


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