For the budget hearing assignment, our group decided to attend the town budget hearing for the City of West Hartford. The City has a population of 66k, surpassing the criteria of the assignment and well represents a median sampling of statewide town budgeting. Taking classes at a nearby UConn satellite campus, our groupmate, Christian, was able to witness and tape record the hearing, as well as collect additional materials describing the Proposed City Budget. At the hearing, he was able to observe a number of citizens express their input and concerns regarding the proposed budget for 2012. Representing the town of West Hartford was the Mayor Scott Slifka who chaired the town meeting.
Rather than addressing each budget item individually, the Mayor invited City residents to participate by signing up to speak publically on the item of their choosing. Easily witnessed in all of the proceedings were the passions of each speakers concern—city/small town politics are surprising loud. At the hearing, a number of citizens expressed public concern for the proposed budget; specifically on topics they felt were not adequately taken into consideration. Certain individuals commanded time well beyond their allotment, and through a listening of the recordings of the event, it is apparent that not everyone would be able to get all that they wanted to express heard.
One case that dominated the hearing addressed the “fair assessment” of property taxes within the City. Local resident, Mr. Robert Melon, brought this matter up when comparing the property tax rate of West Hartford to four times that of Greenwich, Connecticut where the mill rate hovers at around $8. Mr. Melon claims through his research that properties in West Hartford which were improperly assessed in value (Lewis-Hildreth,315.) could have resulted in more revenue for the City. It was his suggestion that proper evaluations of properties, and the revenue gain therein, would be preferable to any raise in mill rate (Lewis-Hildreth,326.) However, like Mr. Melon says, “this does not make a contribution to this budget.” It is a matter of revenue “collection,” and not the agenda matter of the hearing. Others came forth to speak, but similarly, they strayed from the matter of the budget towards their cause of choice—with apparent practice.
In our evaluation of the material provided at the meeting, we were able to make some observations on the state of West Hartford’s budget stability. Differences between the adopted FY ‘10/11 budget versus the FY ‘11/12 show increased expenditures and increased revenue to match. Total increases for the proposed budget of FY ‘11/12 of $5.6 million dollars are shown across a number of categories including wages, operating costs, and benefits. These express a 5.8% rise in spending over the prior fiscal year. If the trend follows, the City of West Harford could likely see future tax increases match the gap. This will affect a rise in the collection property taxes, which are the primary source of revenue for the City. Also, decreases to the capital financing budget may also lead to disinvestment in City and school system infrastructure maintenance. Decreases in expenditures to items such as “Community Services,” “Human and Leisure Services,” and Town Clerk operations project a decrease in services, provided, relative to the prior FY.