Show Me The Money

Special Town Council Ordinance Meeting May 4th

The Ordinance Committee of the Stratford Town Council conducted a public hearing on Tuesday May 4th for residents to give testimony regarding the adopting of the annual operating budget for the Town of Stratford.

The number of residents that signed up to give testimony was extremely disappointing considering that the operating budget is used as a basis to determine our mill rate – which determines our town taxes.

Eight residents spoke out at the hearing and were allotted 3 minutes each. The Stratford Library garnered all of their devoted users. Library supporters outlined what an important resource our town library is, and that cutting $500,000 from the budget would hamper their services and growth. “Programs and books are invaluable, grab and go activities kept residents productive. We are looking for the library to prosper. Budget cuts of 55K are excessive and punitive.”

Residents speaking out believe that the library is the heart and soul of Stratford, and they cited that the library is used daily by almost 700 people; that hours fit into anyone’s schedule; that many students rely on library computers and staff help.

“Stratford is a mixed demographic, and if you look at the Connecticut Mastery Scores you will see that towns with highest scores support their libraries, and have a vibrant, active library.”

Comments on the Board of Education budget by a Stratford resident noted that at the Board of Education Liaison meeting on April 21st, Councilwoman Laura Dancho asked the difficult questions. “Ms. Dancho stated the Board of Education had monies left over year after year and couldn’t spend all of their budget.” According to the audit, this is true. The Board of Education has not used all of the funds allotted to them year after year. Yet they still receive that amount yearly plus additional funding. This is evident in their own documents on their website. In 2018/19 – they had over $400,000 unused and they also encumbered $500,000 for the magnet school tuition bill. In 2019/20 – they had over $700,000 unused at year end. How much will be left over this year? Why not adjust it accordingly?”

“The magnet school bill was paid this year? How, when it wasn’t budgeted in the Board of Education budget? Where did the encumbered funds go? Year after year there were unused funds and where did they go? Where is the CAFR (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report) annual audit?”

“Reevaluations contributed significantly to the grand list this year. What about next year? Think of the taxpayer or homeowner. Look at adjusting accordingly and lower taxes for the homeowner.”
Releasing the BOE audit was helpful in looking at the town budget, but, the town audit still has not be published. Why?

Other resident input regarding the budget (Numbers based on 2021 adopted and 2022 proposed budget):

  • Senator Kelly complains of runaway state spending, yet Governor Lamont is gifting Stratford a onetime $4.7million “distressed municipality” grant which the town has labeled as “COVID Relief”, yet the town is allocating zero ($0.00) toward mitigating costs of COVID.
  • Town is budgeting an extra $9 million of long term debt which 1/2 is to be used to balance the budget – this is like putting your salary on a credit card and paying high interest rates so that your bottom line looks good. This practice is not acceptable business practices.
  • Budget cuts Open Space & Redevelopment funding, and puts EMS Fund in a negative balance – where is the investment in economic development? A vital proactive redevelopment committee is necessary if we are to lift Stratford out of the “distressed community” label.
  • Why is the EMS budget going from $450,000 to $350,000? A loss of $100,000? Their budget includes Pandemic response including vaccination’s, and opioid overdose response/safety, and of course emergency response – all hot topics and needed services. So why reduce their budget? Who is picking up the “slack” when they are unavailable.
  • Overhead & Debt: was $58,562,222 and increased to $61,918,922 – an increase of $335,6700. Why? “I would think with the pandemic closing Town Hall for months and new energy initiatives being brought online that there would not be a need for an increase.
  • Education and Travel (office of the mayor) in 2020 the budget was $5,819, now in 2021 and 2022 you are asking for $15,750 — and increase of $9,931 Why? . Due to the COVID-19 pandemic education and travel costs for the Human Resources department were and I quote “have been reduced at this time as educational conferences have been delayed/suspended”, how is it that the Mayor’s department increased by almost $10K?

During the Town Council Special meeting following the Ordinance Committee public hearing, Councilman Gregg Cann (D-Fifth District) stated that if Stratford had a viable economic development we would not have to rely on state money to balance our budget. “The budget reduces money in redevelopment, overstates revenue. The budget relies on state and federal agencies to bail us out, we need to own the solution, which would demonstrate local control”.

Chris Pia (Town Council Chairman) response: “let’s wait to see how much money from the feds before moving on the budget.”

The proposed budget 2.1 was sent with a Favorable.
Councilors who voted Against 2.1 were: Councilwoman Shake, Councilmen Paul Tavares and Greg Cann.
Editor’s Note: Facts and Figures
(Source: The following information was discussed by the Town Council during this special ordinance committee meeting and this information that can be found in the town’s budget book.

(1) In 2018 the Town of Stratford paid off its 1998 Pension Bond! Per the town’s budget book, this represented a $7.9million annual reduction in expense, the equivalent of a 1.7 reduction in the town’s Mill Rate.
(2) In December 2020, following the election of President Biden, the Town of Stratford utilized historically low interest rates to re-finance $180million of its long-term debt. The Mayor stated our interest cost savings are $3million, annually. That is the equivalent of a 0.7 reduction in the town’s Mill Rate.
(3) If you add those numbers (0.5 + 1.0 + 1.7 + 0.7 = 3.9 Mills). The value of a Mill is approximately $4.7m. For the average household, these new monies represent a potential property tax saving of $880 per year.

Question of the Day: So why has our Mill Rate only been reduced by only 0.1 over the past four years?
A. Town’s operating expenses continue to grow at 3.5% – 4.0% per year.
B. The town’s commercial/industrial Grand List has been trending at 1/3 that rate
C. Therefore, despite an extra $17million added to our coffers ($7.2million from State of CT, $9.9million from improved economic conditions,
D. the Town of Stratford cannot reduce its Mill Rate!
E. Yet, the town is collecting an extra 15% from your automobile taxes, and
F. for owners of low and moderately priced residences, the re-valuation hit you with a 20% tax increase, even while Mil Rate decreased by all of 0.1.

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