MERIDEN — Most members of the public who addressed the City Council, whether verbally or through written comments during a remote budget hearing Thursday night, voiced opposition to a spending plan that would increase the overall city budget by a little more than $5.2 million in the upcoming fiscal year.
Officials projected the mill rate, currently 40.86, would increase to 41.73 mills if the budget is adopted as proposed. Officials explained rising expenses for employee benefits and debt service are the two items driving the $203.5 million fiscal 2022 budget request.
The proposal represents a 2.7% increase over the current $198.2 million spending plan.
The hearing, held by video conference, lasted less than 40 minutes. Fewer than a dozen residents spoke or submitted written comment.
Sean McDonald was one of the residents who called a dedicated telephone number to tell the council he opposed an increase.
“I have a lot of concerns with what’s going on,” McDonald said. “We’re in the middle of a pandemic here — I understand that. I’m reminded of it every day. But what I noticed is that the city keeps on adding more staff instead of downsizing and saving the taxpayers money.
“So if we’re in such a pandemic, why are you guys keeping on spending? That’s the question I’m asking. You guys should be doing everything possible — cutting spending, working with what you have.... That’s what bothers me,” McDonald continued.
Joe Vollano, a Republican former candidate for council and state House, said he believed that with the expected influx of millions in COVID-19 relief funds, residents should see a decrease in tax rates.
“I haven’t seen anything but a tax increase… What are you guys doing?” he said. “We seem to have the same conversation every year. You guys don’t seem to care about the taxpayers of the city.”
There was a technical glitch when the first members of the public tried to call in, which prompted Mayor Kevin Scarpati to instruct council clerk Lori Canney to read some of the written comments submitted.
Holly Wills, president of the Council of Neighborhoods and the first resident to speak during public comment, asked the council to support the proposed police department spending plan.
“The city and our neighborhoods endured an enormous amount of criminal activity, gun violence and homicides within the last year,” Wills said. “The police department has done exceptional work solving these crimes.”
The council’s finance committee is scheduled to hold a final budget review on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. After that, the budget will go to the full council.
Meriden resident Rick Hupalo lamented the proposed tax rate increase and proposed increases in water and sewer rates.
“What are we doing so taxpayers don’t have to take on additional expenses? Because people are hurting,” Hupalo said. “... What are we doing to reduce overhead? What are we doing to help residents in town? There are a lot of people struggling… Yet we’re going to come around and say we’re going to increase tax rates.”