A property tax increase could be in the mix for West Hartford residents, as town officials try to make up for an $800,000 cut in state funding.
Friday, Town Manager Ron Van Winkle said his employees are on pins and needles waiting for Governor Dan Malloy’s budget to come out next month.
“There’s a lot of pressures on our budget,” said Van Winkle.
News that the town of West Hartford would not be getting the state funding they’d already factored into this year’s budget wasn’t a complete surprise.
"We anticipated there was going to be something. We never anticipated it was going to be this large,” said Van Winkle.
Van Winkle said the cut will be covered out of the town’s $1.6 million surplus. He said that money was earmarked to cover a potential default by the city of Hartford to the Metropolitan District Commission for its water and sewer services, and that the town will be obligated to pay it next year, if Hartford can’t.
“The city of Hartford is in deep trouble. There’s no question about that. Their finances are a mess,” said Van Winkle.
Van Winkle explained that the MDC increase, the state’s decrease in funding, and the prospect of having to bail Hartford out further means a property tax increase in inevitable.
“Yes, without question,” he said. “It is highly likely that we will have to raise local property taxes to balance our budget.”
Not surprisingly, that news of a tax hike was not welcomed by residents.
“I’m retired and I’m living on a pension. I don’t like it,” said Roger Bougie.
“I don’t feel we’re responsible for Hartford’s problems at all. Hartford is responsible,” added Paul Carlson.
Van Winkle agreed that a Hartford bailout should be left up to the state and not just the region.
“It’s important that Hartford doesn’t fall apart. So, we would like the state to be creative and find a way to finance Hartford’s problem and assist them, but we don’t want them to take it out of West Hartford,” said the Town Manager.
To minimize the property tax increase, Van Winkle ordered all town departments to look for ways to save, through vacancies, overtime, and capital projects.
The town is not in a hiring freeze. In fact, this week they hired another police officer. However, Van Winkle said some of the dozen open positions will be eliminated through attrition. He's also put a halt on small town projects, like park improvements.
While he admitted that he hopes the snow plows can stay in storage the rest of the winter, he said essential services will not be cut, despite stricter rules on overtime.
“We will plow our streets and make the community safe and we’ll have to find ways to cut other spending,” he said.
He cautioned that the town may have to tighten its belt even more as the state legislature looks to fill its own billion dollar budget gap.
“West Hartford spends $250 million a year so $800,000 isn’t something that breaks us, it’s the anticipation that there is more coming,” Van Winkle explained.
He said he plans to meet with the school superintendent next week to discuss similar cost-cutting measures.