With the new year comes the beginning of budget-making process, and Mayor Nancy Rossi said the preliminary work toward getting a spending package ready for a May vote is just getting underway.
Department heads and city departments, including the Board of Education, get brought up to speed in the opening weeks, and then put together their “wish list.”
Rossi said the work has begun and department heads have a handle on what is expected this year.
“We have held budget meetings and workshops with department heads and have outlined the schedule and expectations,” she said. “We delivered the budget packages to the departments in early January. The requested budget from the departments with detailed justification is due to the finance department no later than Feb. 7.”
According to Rossi, the Board of Education has submitted their budget with no additional city funds requested. The Board is expecting a $1.6 million increase in Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) from the state based on the biennial budget passed last year.
The city is entering its fourth budget cycle with the Municipal Accountability Review Board (MARB) looking over the city’s shoulder. The state restructuring funds, those dollars used to balance city budgets, are phasing out as West Haven’s financial condition improves. Rossi said the move toward independence from the panel is moving forward.
“ The city has shown positive operating results and is building a fund balance or rainy day fund. Having the State Board involved in the budget development makes the process much more challenging because of the additional oversight and approvals,” she said.
The MARB has required mill rate increases for the term of the five-year plan up to 40 mills in order to balance city books. This year taxpayers can expect a hike, but not as much as MARB wanted, according to Rossi.
“The city has worked with the MARB to smooth the mill increases in the five-year plan. The original five-year plan FY2021 had a 2-mill rate increase. After the smoothing the mill increase FY2021 is a 1.17 mill increase,” she said.
But, if there is positive growth in taxable property, the increase may be mitigated. This week, the city announced the grand list had increased a bit over 1 percent (see related story).
“If there is grand list growth which will generate additional revenue to support the city’s budget, the mill rate will decrease. We are confident that the grand list will continue to grow as it has the last couple of years as new projects begin and businesses open and expand,” she said.
She said she is not ready to make any predictions on what the mill rate will be just yet.
“ It is too early in the process to predict if there will be a tax increase or not, but I am confident if there is a tax increase it will be much lower than the 1.17 mill rate increase that is the new mill rate in the five-year plan,” she said. “We will submit a balanced and responsible budget and mitigate any tax increase if possible.”
When asked if there are any special projects on the docket that would be either state or city financed, Rossi said that three special projects are on the docket.
“We have met with our state delegation and have discussed our priorities for the coming year. They include the raising of Beach Street (phases two and three). The first phase will begin this spring. The repair and upgrade of the Savin Rock Conference Center, funding to complete the Art Center and infrastructure improvements in Allingtown are other important priorities,” she said.
Rossi said the city’s move out of deficit has been slow and steady, and everything will be in place to announce the new budget at the proper time.
“The City of West Haven is showing good progress and has become financially responsible. Our immediate focus is on continuing to move projects forward and aggressively marketing the city to investors for economic development. The growth of the city’s commercial grand list is critical to the future success of the city,” she said. “I will work with our Finance Board and submit my recommended budget for fiscal year 2021 to the City Council on or before March 19, as required by the city charter. The City Council must adopt a budget by May 7.”