The most recent revaluation cycle which concluded in December 2019 showed what many homeowners had already feared, that the fair market value of their property had declined since the previous assessment in 2014.
Assessor Betsy Quist updated the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Finance at their respective meetings about the result of the revaluation. The bad news for town leaders was that the Grand List — the list of all the taxable property in town — is down in value by 4.43% or $45 million.
Finance Board Chairman Matthew Giglietti warned, “even if we come in with a 0% budget increase, the mil rate is going to go up,” to make up for the lost income. “The town still has to pay the bills,” Quist said.
With the lower property values a mil rate of 41.84 (current mil rate is 40.23) would support this year’s budget of $50 million. Even so, an increased mil rate does not automatically mean higher taxes for everyone. Due to the decreased value, the majority of homeowners will see a lower tax bill. At a mill rate of 41.84, 35.6% of households will see a tax increase, while 64.4% will see a tax decrease, Quist said.
The revaluation showed how some types of houses were more sought after than others and held their value better. Multi-family homes for instance saw the most robust increase of 29% in value over the five years; ranches stayed unchanged, raised ranches increased in value by 4%. Colonials, however, which are by far the most common style in this area, lost 7% of their value. Antique homes held their value; while modern homes lost about 4%; Cape Cod style houses lost 5%.
Analyzed by size, the largest houses lost most in value, with those over 5,000 square feet losing 12.6%. Houses between 2,000 and 3,000 square feet lost 4.5% of their value; while small houses between 1,000 to 1,500 square feet held steady at .5% increase.
Similarly, the most expensive houses, those costing $1 million and up, lost 17%; homes costing between $700,000 and $1 million lost 13%; homes costing between $500,000 and 700,000 lost 9.8%; houses between $400,000 and 500,000 lost 6.9% in value; those between $300,000 and $400,000 lost 3.7%; those between $200,000 and $300,000 gained .014 and those under $200,000, of which there are 148 in town, gained 7%.
All these numbers are generated by comparing sales figures, Quist said. The average home value in Woodbridge is $400,000, down from $428,000 five years ago. The average assessed value is $280,000.
The biggest taxpayers in town are the utilities and the senior living facilities. They are CL&P ($25.1 million), UI ($12.1 million); Coachman Square ($7 million); The Linden ($4.9 million); 1764 Litchfield Tpk. ($4.2 million); Willows of Woodbridge ($3.7million); OP Inc – Bruce D. Schaefer and Taylor M. Schaefer ($3.2 million); Crest Woodbridge LLC ($2.7 million); Research Development at Bradley Road ($2.52 million) and JP Morgan Chase Bank ($2.2 million).
Giglietti said the problem of the shrinking Grand List is not unique to Woodbridge. “Residential real estate in Connecticut is not doing well,” he said, even in towns with low mil rates. When the Woodbridge mil rate hit 40 last year, many considered it the end of the world, he said. “I just don’t agree with that.” Giglietti said when he first joined the Board of Finance in late 1980s then-First Selectman Russ Stoddard already predicted that once all the land is developed, eventually the Grand List will stop growing.
Giglietti said people in the community suggest to him to just cut expenses. “Where do you want to start cutting,” he said. “Give me some detailed information.”
The town has already eliminated or reduced a number of positions in the past few years. They have eliminated the parks director; a town clerk; the lieutenant at the police department; a circulation assistant at the library; a payroll clerk in the finance department; the grant writer and a mechanic. Once they cut more, it will affect services, he said. For instance, if they cut people at the library, the building may have to be closed some nights; or if they reduce the public works crews, streets will not be plowed as quickly.
The Board of Finance even considered closing the Transfer Station and Recycling Center for a day to allow those employees to support grounds keeping at Beecher Road School. But the town just installed a scale at the Transfer Station, which allows them to more accurately charge the commercial haulers. The concern was that if they close the station, the haulers will go elsewhere and the town will lose out on that income.
The Board of Finance is took on the 2021-22 budget on March 4. Giglietti said at that time that he hoped to get the budget increase to under 1%. “There is going to be some pain,” he said.
Selectmen’s budget: The Board of Selectmen in the meantime made its budget recommendation for the 2021-22 fiscal year. The board shaved items from the capital requests as well as the operating budgets. In the end, its recommendation to the Board of Finance represented a 2.27% increase over this year’s budget, and a 42.71 mil rate.
The selectmen’s vote for the budget recommendation was unanimous. However, Selectman Joseph Dey expressed his reluctance to take responsibility for a budget that eventually is approved by the Board of Finance. He suggested, as he has in previous years when it comes to budget time, that Selectmen set tighter parameters so as to get taxes under control. The board decided to schedule a budget conversation in June, which would make the budgeting process truly a year-round process.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent