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Friday, June 29, 2007

Fuzzy Math: West Hartford families to see 4.54% tax increase

As I predicted months ago, during the 2007 West Hartford budget and taxation debate, those seeking fiscal restraint, lower taxes, and spending reductions by West Hartford town officials have been left in the dark. Despite the overwhelming margin of victory and the clear cut message sent by West Hartford taxpayers by referendum two weeks ago that the tax increases proposed are too high, and the spending is clearly unacceptable - we seem to be back in the same place as we were before the budget was rejected by residents - with another large tax increase headed our way.

Property taxes on residential properties are going to go up 4.54% this year which is not a small increase for your average West Hartford family getting by each month. Not everyone receives a yearly pay increase of 4.5% to offset the yearly West Hartford tax increase. And there are people in worse situations then we are in here who will struggle and really feel this as a burden.

Yet, there are still those out there in town and on the web engaged in this debate that attempt to distort away the tax increase as something less than it is - moving numbers around to try to imply that the town is spending less and people will pay less - yes, perhaps on car taxes - despite that the mill rate is still higher than the average neighboring town and is the third highest millrate in the State of Connecticut.

Another ploy is to attempt to finagle the numbers so that there is an implication that the millrate will drop from 44.08 to 27. over five years - which Mayor Slivka has promised (or at least he did at one point). But all of these promises are nothing more than smoke and mirrors meant to deflect from the fact that West Hartford officials can't bring themselves to say "no". They can't bring themselves to do the mature and unpopular thing - cut out the fat. They refuse to say no to the special interest groups that infiltrate the Council's budget process. And quite frankly, by seeing what they offered up in terms of "cuts" this time around, it shows that they aren't willing to do the hard work and dig into the budget "line by line" and make the cuts needed to even start to make the budget reasonable.

Unfortunately, misinforming the public and pretending that we really aren't receiving a 4.54% residential property tax increase this is year is nothing short of -- deceitful. Even the Hartford Courant's numbers differ from that of the Town Manager - so it supposes that something is awry in the numbers process. And the factual reasons for not reducing spending lies in several areas - inability to cut wasteful programs, spending too much on things that aren't necessary (for example, hidden elements to beautify the town), high administrative costs, and the inability to negotiate with the teacher's union and all the other unions in town that seem to get a free pass when it comes to agreeing to their demands.

Harping on the union argument for a minute. Live and on television last week, we all witnessed confirmation that the nurses in West Hartford schools get paid - not just very well - but paid the highest in the region! How did the West Hartford Board of Education respond when it came to a request for pay increases? Well, they gave them a whopping 3.8% increase on the backs of the taxpayers without blinking an eye, despite that a week earlier, the referendum failed miserably.

The only way that you will get true tax and spend reform is to elect fiscally responsible people to the Council and the Board of Education. Anything short of that will only result in the continuation of imposing even higher taxes over an even longer period of time. There is no end in sight to the trend, and the people sitting on the Council and in the Town Manager's office know it!

And putting honest, loyal, and accountable Republicans in office in West Hartford is no easy task. In the end it will be interesting if the people in town can separate their hatred for George Bush, and the emptying of their wallets by the West Hartford Democratically-controlled Board of Education and Town Council.

For those of you who aren't believers... here is what West Hartford residents have seen in tax increases since 2001:

2001: 4.0%
2002: 5.6%
2003: 5.6%
2004: 6.3%
2005: 4.3%
2006: 5.7%
2007: 4.54% (proposed)

Does anyone else see both a "trend" and a "problem"? Makes you wonder what lies ahead in 2008? Don't residents see that they've been conditioned to accept increases of this magnitude year after year without showing REAL resistance. It's almost as if, a spending freeze is completely out of the question, never mind a tax cut.

So what is their yearly strategy? They recommend a much higher increase, we referendum and bark at them, they trim it (marginally), and in they end you still get what you see above.... a yearly high tax increase. It's like anything else - ask for more then you'll know you'll ever get and then negotiate it down to your minimum - still getting what you want from the start - more spending, higher taxes, and unions pay increases! The perfect cycle.

When will we take off the blinders and really make a stand?

So here we are, with the latest tax increase about to be imposed on the residents of West Hartford. And our town officials stand before you - long faced, solemn, and pretending to look exhausted over all the pretended effort and drain its taken on them to produce this "wonderfully balanced" budget.

Meanwhile, after the cameras are shut down, our elected town officials retire to the backroom, yucking it up with martinis in hand, celebrating their victory over the residents of West Hartford - who will see another rise in taxes for the "good of the people".


Judy Aron said...

Thank You for this piece..
I think our only recourse is November elections, but so far I don't see any real alternatives being offered.
We need people who are willing to step up and make some bold changes as to how money is spent in Town.
These folks currently at the helm really do not want to deal with spending seriously.
That was obvious and that is why no further referendum seems apparent.
Just getting them to not increase what their spending level was last year was a feat in and of itself. Mostly they have played games with what they are expecting in revenue before they even consider reducing non union benefits and making a line in the sand against any further demands for union increases.
Seems like those of us who don't like it, or can't afford it, are just being told to "move out of Dodge"

The King said...

Thank you Judy. I've become increasingly disappointed in many of the comments that I see on WH Blog regarding West Hartford and taxation. I am really beginning to believe that there are many in town that are so single-minded in their thinking that they honestly do not see the real problem - poor town management and incapable people at the helm.

Although I do think that those at the helm fancy the notion of this town becoming the next Fairfield County.

But how they've bewitched normal, middle class soccer moms to rally on their behalf is beyond me. I could see if the schools were in disrepair or we had lousy teachers and poor high school to college placement - but its quite the opposite.

And as for the town itself - it spends like running water.

I agree with you. As we begin to look to upgrade for space, we don't think WH can be the long term solution due to the taxes. That large sum can be used toward kid's college tuition or a dozen other things to benefit my family. One hundred pretty flower pots lining Farmington Avenue just doesn't justify the increases.

Hope to meet you some time in person.