For the fourth time since taking office, Mayor Nancy N. Rossi will present a budget for the new fiscal year, and this one will have some positive news for city taxpayers if all goes well. The City Council will meet in special session at 5:30 this afternoon for the budget presentation, setting off a six-week process that leads to adoption of a budget ordinance in May.
The Fiscal Year 2022 budget may have good news for taxpayers: a “constant” mill rate, and no further acceptance of state restructuring funds, according to Rossi, who must still pass the proposal onto the Municipal Accountability Review Board for approval.
If given the go-ahead by the state panel, Rossi indicated in remarks this week the new budget will have no mill-rate increase (using the work “constant”), and no new funding from the State of Connecticut in the form of restructuring funds received since she took office in 2017.
The indication the mayor hopes to keep the mill rate steady means it will be the first year since 2017 taxpayers have not seen an increase. The MARB forced the city to raise the mill rate incrementally over the course of the five-year plan of 2017 with an end goal of attaining 40 mills. Last year’s $165.2 million plan saw the tax rate go to 37.48, and would remain the same should Rossi get her way.
The mayor had another surprise, indicating the city will forego taking any further funds from the state. That is something that could give her leverage with MARB going forward.
“I am confident we can deliver an honest and balanced budget that will keep the mill rate constant,” she said this week. “The city will also benefit from commercial growth in our grand list for the third consecutive year.”
The term “constant” is important, because she said revaluation – something that takes place every four years now – has increased the Grand List. The mill rate will go down with the actual tax remaining the same.
“I am preparing my recommended budget for fiscal year 2022, which begins July 1, 2021, and I will be keeping the mill rate constant. West Haven’s property values increased significantly during the recent revaluation, and as a result, the city will adjust the mill rate downward,” she said.
Saing West Haven has “turned the corner” with three consecutive balanced budgets and a growing rainy-day fund, she plans to refuse any further state restricting money.
“I believe West Haven can move forward on its own, and effective July 1, 2021, I will propose that the city take no more additional funding from the Municipal Accountability Review Board (MARB).
West Haven has one additional payment of $2 million for FY’22 in the five-year plan before completely phasing out. In effect, the city phased out a year early.
“With the progress we have made over the past three years, it would be irresponsible to continue taking restructuring funds from the state. The city has changed the financial culture and West Haven can move onward responsibly and now focus on other priorities including addressing our aging infrastructure, removing blight, and revitalizing our parks, athletic facilities, and other city properties,” she said.
Those priorities include infrastructure and school development, marketing the city for economic development and continued projects to further grow the commercial Grand list.
The elephant in the room is MARB, as of press time, the mayor had not sent the budget proposal to the panel for approval, but said talks are continuing.
“”We are in ongoing negotiations with MARB regarding the fiscal year 2022 budget. I have enjoyed strong support from the City Council and our state delegation members in these efforts,” she said..
She said taxpayers can expect more of the same with the new budget.
“ The budget will maintain our current services, continuing to pay down long-term debt, increase our rainy-day fund, address deferred maintenance, and implement additional needed long-term structural changes,” she said..
The school system takes the lion’s share of any municipal budget. Rossi said with outside funds coming in from state and federal sources, the school system did not ask for any additional funds.
“The Board of Education will be receiving additional funding from the State of Connecticut and Federal Government (American Recovery Plan) which will allow them to operate with the current level of city funding. They are not requesting additional city funding and there will be no need for any closures or budget cuts in our school system,” she said.
Allingtown, which shutdown its independent fire district to come under the city’s auspices a decade ago will get good news as well.
“The Allingtown Fire District is in good shape financially. It finished last year with a $766,000 budget surplus and have, for the first time, a healthy rainy-day fund of $1.9 million. The current year budget is balanced, and I will not be recommending any tax increase for the Allingtown Fire District in the proposed budget,” she said.
Closing out her assessment of the budget, Rossi said the new reality of a healthier fiscal health has made the budget-making process a bit less precarious.
“This budget process is easier now that the City is in a better place financially. Three years ago, we were dealing with large deficits and had to rely heavily on $8 million in state (MARB) restructuring grants,” she said. “This year we will not request the last year MARB restructuring grant ($2 million). We will stabilize local taxes by holding the mill rate constant. Our West Haven taxpayers have sacrificed enough due to decades of city mismanagement—and those days are over,” she said.