As Woodbridge Republican Town Committee Chairman, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with many residents on a variety of important Woodbridge issues. Other than the ongoing saga of the golf course, the one I hear about most often is our softening property values. For older residents, the expectation that an appreciated home value would enhance their retirement nest egg has disappeared. For newer residents, the current home price levels have provided an opportunity to move here to enjoy our fine school system.
Working with former and current Board of Selectmen members, and by applying common sense, it has become clear that our home values are closely tied to our property taxes, specifically our mill rate. To be fair, surrounding towns with more commercial and retail properties have an edge over Woodbridge in that less of their total town income comes from residential taxes. Due to this economic disadvantage, we, as a community, accept the yearly increase in our mill rate to cover the never-ending increase in our budget. The result is telling; anyone looking to sell their home comes to the realization that it has been devalued and their selling price needs to be reduced to offset the exorbitant mill rate to entice purchasers. That said, our town budget – or the process we go through each year to create it – shows no appetite to address this fact and exercise any serious fiscal constraint. As a community, we just accept these increases.
The Republican members of the Board of Selectmen have previously proposed the need for revisions to the revamped budget process with the stated goal of reducing town expenses. This would be the first effort in recent memory to reverse the annual mill rate increase that now has us at over 40. Simply put, the process looks like this:
- Mid-summer, each year, the Board of Selectmen will meet to discuss and set the strategic and financial policy for the next annual budget (e.g. department and commission budgets, and the overall budget, shall be reduced by “X” percent). Direction will then be given to the Finance Director and the budget stakeholders (department heads and Chairs of Commissions with budgets) accordingly. The Finance Director will then work closely with all budget stakeholders, guiding them through a Program-Based Budget Process (formerly known as Zero-Based Budgeting) designed to achieve the stated policy goal.
- Possibly in recognition of our ever-increasing property taxes and at the suggestion of Republican Selectmen, the First Selectman recently announced the appointment of an Ad Hoc Budget Task Force to provide some recommendations to help guide the budget-setting work of both the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance. In principle, this is a good idea. The problem is those appointed are predominantly current and former BOS and BOF members with, by my estimation, in the neighborhood of 40+ combined years of service on these boards. While these volunteers are to be thanked for their service, it would be beneficial for fresh eyes – other residents with experience in creating budgets and establishing financial goals – to be appointed to this Task Force. I would add that Republican Selectman Joe Dey, who has been advocating for budget process reform, was not asked to be on the Task Force. So, while many of us anxiously await the findings and recommendations of the Task Force, the lack of new blood among the members dampens my optimism.
For now, the 2019-20 budget is set and we have to live with it and its consequences. But Republicans will continue keeping our property value challenges on the front burner when we vote to spend taxpayer money, and push to spend less, with the goal of bringing our taxes down.
By Stephen Falcigno, WRTC Chairman