WALLINGFORD — Taxes would go up only slightly under the 2023-24 budget the Town Council approved Tuesday that now goes to Mayor William Dickinson Jr. for his signature.
The $186,825,680 budget increases the tax rate by 0.3 of a mill, bringing the rate to 29.34 from the current 29.04 mills. A mill equals $1 for every $1,000 in assessed value. For a house assessed at $190,000, the tax bill would increase $57 from $5,517 to $5,574.
But whether that budget is implemented depends on Dickinson, who can sign the budget or veto it, sending it back to the council, which can either override the veto with at least seven votes out of the nine-member body, or make changes to the budget and send it back to the mayor.
Dickinson's proposed a budget of $187,720,916, almost $7 million more than the current budget but more than $5 million less than what the department heads requested.
Last week the council, after several nights of budget hearings, made motions to revise Dickinson's budget. Councilor Christina Tatta proposed a set of six motions that would have removed several items from the budget and funded them, along with several other additions, with $2.9 million from the town's reserves. Dickinson's budget already included using $6.4 million from reserves, bringing that total to $9.3 million with the proposed changes, a figure Dickinson told the council he had "real concerns" about.
Councilor Vincent Testa then proposed reducing the $2.9 million to $1.5 million, making up the rest of the money through a tax increase. The council approved that plan.
Because of that increase, albeit small, Tatta said she couldn't vote for it.
"The package as I presented at the motions meeting put additional funding into the Board of Ed, additional funding for Public Works, sidewalk repairs uptown, police, fire and EMS, but the biggest part of that was that there was no tax increase,” Tatta said. “That plan was amended so a lot of that additional spending remains, but now it comes with a tax increase. The difficult decision that I'm trying to make is that this still is a lower tax increase than the mayor's proposed budget. So I find myself in the position where I think a lot of councilors agree that the zero tax increase was possible, and I think we had the support for it, but the amendment was made in order to try to avoid a veto. So now I have to decide between my principles of having to justify a tax increase when I know it's not necessary per the plan that I proposed, or going with an unnecessary tax increase because it's lower than what the mayor has proposed. So that's the difficult decision I'm in at this point."
Ultimately Tatta voted against the budget, along with Councilors Craig Fishbein and Autumn Allinson
The budget includes a deep cut to the increase the Board of Education requested, which school officials say will result in layoffs. Board Chairwoman Tammy Raccio said the board will spend the next several weeks addressing that.
"The Board of Education is currently scheduling budget meetings to identify ways to reduce the sustained budget given the underfunded budget from the mayor and Town Council," she said Thursday. "We anticipate multiple meetings during May and hope to adopt a budget at our May 22 monthly meeting.
"We expect both non-salary and salary cuts, but since the BOE hasn't met or approved anything yet, it's difficult to guess where they might be," she said.
The only person to speak on the budget at Tuesday's council meeting was Bayberry Drive resident Paul Ciardullo, who said there was no need to raise the tax rate. The most recent projections show that this year's budget is going to come in about $7 million under budgeted expenses, which has been a trend historically, he said.
"Expenses are badly overinflated," he told the council. "I propose someone make a motion to cancel the tax increase and reduce expenses by the same amount. I think that will create a more realistic budget. There's no risk to that at all because if you need more money, obviously you'll come back and ask for it."
The council declined to act on that suggestion, instead approving its budget with the tax rate increase.
"We have been doing this year in and year out and I hope this is the year that will change and pass a realistic budget," he said before the vote, "because we are about to enter a recession economically as the Federal Reserve keeps raising rates and that's not good for the working class, and a tax increase is not good either.”