We are confounded by First Selectman Beth Heller’s repeated simplistic claim that more housing is good for our town financially because it will grow our Grand List. When we served the town, the Boards of Selectmen and Finance saw the world 180 degrees differently.
The Grand List is the list of all properties subject to town taxation, and consists primarily of homes and businesses (autos represent a very small percent). For many years, the town’s Grand List has been around 90 percent residential and 10 percent business property. The problem is this – with homes generally come the cost of public education, and education consumes some two-thirds of our Town budget. The per student cost to educate one child at Amity Regional School District is $19,732, according to the District’s approved budget for FY22. The Beecher Road School Superintendent stated last Fall that it costs $17,500 to $18,000 on average to educate one child given current federal and state grant support. That means the annual cost of educating just one child substantially exceeds the annual taxes on a typical three-bedroom home (under $11,000 per year). Further, our town’s Finance Director has stated that the cost of other government services (police, fire, library, government programs, public works) amounts to $2,000 per resident every year.
So while residential development increases the total size of the Grand List, it also increases the demands on the Town Budget. Growing our Grand List doesn’t ease a household’s tax burden if the growth also increases budget demands. The fact is we need to diversify our Grand List to include more commercial taxpayers, not just make the Grand List larger, if we want to reduce the net tax burden on individual households.
Prior administrations – both Republican and Democratic – understood this. For example, they invested in open space acreage in order to control residential development and the concomitant increase in tax burden. Even Ms. Heller created an Ad Hoc 2030 Task Force aimed at creating “a more robust and diverse grand list by 2030,” with a focus on ways to “be more attractive to new businesses, help current businesses grow and succeed.” From the Task Force’s charge, it sounds like Ms. Heller once understood the need to diversify our Grand List.
We realize that Ms. Heller supports the Arbor Haven proposal to build housing on the former Country Club of Woodbridge, and is actively promoting the Arbor Haven scheme. But Ms. Heller is oversimplifying and overselling when she repeatedly asserts that more housing grows our Grand List and therefore is good for our town. Ms. Heller would better serve our town if she accepted the facts and shared them with her constituents.
Stephen Francis – Board of Finance member, 2002-2005
Amey Marrella – First Selectman, 2001-2006