January means the beginning of the municipal budget-making season with things scheduled to be proposed in mid-March. As things begin, Mayor Nancy Rossi is optimistic the city will be on more sound footing than in past years and anticipates no big problems in the coming weeks.
“The budget process has begun for the fiscal year 2023, which begins on July 1. The city department heads, and Board of Education will submit their budget requests to me by Feb. 3rd. I will review all the requests and submit my recommended budget for fiscal year 2023 to the City Council by March 17 as required in the City Charter. The City Council will hold a public hearing and budget meetings with the departments and must pass a budget and set the mill rate by Thursday May 5 to be in compliance with the City Charter,” she said.
COVID has played a role in the process over the last two years, with some adjustments to accommodate. Mrs. Rossi believes this year should be a bit easier.
“With COVID, the last two years has been difficult to convene the Board of Finance, which is an advisory board to the mayor,” she said. “I do plan on setting up a meeting in February, either in person or by Zoom, to review the department budget requests and discuss budget options and suggestions for next fiscal year.”
A major part of any municipal budget is the percentage of revenue coming from state tax-sharing programs. The numbers are important when determining mill rates. Five years ago, the General Assembly’s lack of a timely budget – and subsequent realignment of fewer funds – hurt the city, and other cities in the state. Rossi believes thing should be settled early in the process.
“The General Assembly will convene in February for this year’s session. One of the items on their agenda will be making mid-term adjustments to the biennial state budget approved for fiscal years 2022 and 2023. I do not anticipate significant changes in state funding for fiscal year 2023,” she said.
The University of New Haven plays a key role in the economic life of West Haven, but as a university is exempt from taxes on most property. The state’s PILOT Program – Payments in Lieu of Taxes – takes care of some of the burden, but the relationship between the city and university has helped relieve other liabilities over the years. That partnership has benefited residents as well.
“The University of New Haven’s property in West Haven is tax exempt and the city does receive state funding from the state’s Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) program. The University does contribute to the Allingtown Fire Department’s budget and is a good partner for the City of West Haven. The University offers city students 50% tuition discount as they continue to strengthen an already strong relationship with the City of West Haven. The city is committed to continuing the discussions with the University of New Haven on proposals that with benefit both parties,” Rossi said.
In December of 2020, the city announced an Enterprise Zone proposal for the corridor along the West River and Front Avenue in Allingtown. The state accepted the proposal in 2021, and it is hoped it will benefit the city’s economic – and budgetary – fortunes in the coming years. It has not had any affect so far, and will not in the coming budget, it seems. Rossi, however, said the new zone is attracting interest.
“The Enterprise and Opportunity Zones approved for West Haven have significantly increased commercial interest in West Haven. The Enterprise Zone which encompasses much of the Front Avenue corridor has resulted in current business expansion and investors purchasing vacant lots. The city is looking forward to continuing the progress and welcoming additional development in the area,” she said.
The Haven was announced as an upscale retail mall in 2014, the project has languished for much of that time, with demolition of purchased properties only beginning last year. Retail and commercial properties will enhance the city’s Grand List and reduce the tax burden of the average homeowner.
Problems and delays have hampered the revenue-producing capabilities of the property, which is only now is producing some revenues in the form of permits.
The state has granted a special tax status to the stores that fill the location, helping the developer. Rossi is optimistic about the project but voiced her frustration as well.
“The Haven (Simon Property Group) and the City of West Haven are actively negotiating an Inter-local agreement that will outline the structure of the new Special Taxation District that was passed by the state legislature last year,” she said. “The agreement, when completed and approved by the City Council, will give the city more leverage and control in the schedule of the project. Like everyone else, I continue to be frustrated with the slow pace of the project but remain optimistic the city can move forward with the commercial development of that area, which continues to deteriorate.”
In her final comments, Rossi gave an update on other projects that have proposed over the last several months. She is hopeful those will get underway and begin producing revenues that can be included in future budgets. One of particular interest is slated for the Walk/Bike Path area.
“The New England Brewing Company is aggressively moving forward with developing plans for the tap room and event space where the Savin Rock Conference Center currently stands,” she said. “The company is planning to present an application and drawings to the Planning and Zoning Commission this spring,” she said.
Meanwhile the recent rebuilding of beachfront across from Morse Park and the former Chick’s Drive-In prompted an update from the mayor.
“The permit application has been submitted to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection for phase 2 of the raising of Beach Street. The permit process is expected to take about four to six months and we hope to begin construction in the summer months of 2022,” she said finally.