By Selectman Maria Cruz Kayne
This year’s budget process will soon come to a close. Last week, the Board of Selectmen voted 5-1 to recommend a budget with just under a 3% increase to the Board of Finance. I cast the lone “no” vote.
Why did I vote no? This budget would increase our mill rate from the current 38.54 to 40.09 mills – higher than the City of New Haven’s proposed mill rate for next year! Over the last decade, Woodbridge taxes have increased at double the rate of inflation. We are in a vicious cycle in which taxes continue to rise and individual property values continue to fall. The higher our taxes go, the more we lose value in our real estate, as potential buyers choose other towns such as Orange (current mill rate 32.2), Guilford (current mill rate 28.67) and Madison (current mill rate 26.49). High taxes drive buyers away and as a direct consequence drive values down. How do we reverse this cycle?
In the short term, the only remedy is to reduce spending. As I wrote in a previous column, compared to other towns in Connecticut, Woodbridge spends much more to provide basic governmental services. “Taxes at Home: A Comparison of Municipal Spending,” published by the Yankee Institute for Public Policy (a non-profit think tank based in Hartford) analyzed the expense side of the budgets of Connecticut’s 169 cities and towns. It explains very clearly why Woodbridge taxes are so high: Woodbridge has the tenth highest per capita municipal spending in the state. One hundred and fifty nine Connecticut towns—Fairfield, Monroe, Roxbury, Avon, Litchfield, Guilford, Orange and Madison among them—educate their children, pay their town employees, maintain their roads, provide for public safety, and perform all of the functions of local government at a lower cost than Woodbridge.
Our Town leaders need to look at the budgets of other towns, talk with leaders in other Towns, and get ideas for how to increase efficiency. We have more town employees than other towns our size. Can we reorganize and reassign duties to avoid filling the job of every retiree? Can some of our services be outsourced? Can some of our services be regionalized?
I am confident that if we take the time and put in the effort to look hard enough, we can find ways to increase efficiency. But we should also thoroughly evaluate our programs and consider eliminating those that have minimal participation.
Town leaders will only care about these issues if they know that YOU care about them. There are two opportunities for you to express yourself to the Board of Finance in the next month. The Board of Finance will meet on Thursday, March 16th in the Town Hall. Public comment is at 6pm. The Board will hold the annual Preliminary Budget Hearing on Monday, April 17th at 7:30pm in the Center Gym. That meeting is for the express purpose of hearing from the public on the subject of the budget. I hope to see you there.