Many of Connecticut's cities and towns find themselves in a perpetual state of budget crisis which often results in widely varying mill rates, which are used to calculate property taxes. With 169 municipalities, there could potentially be 169 different levels of tax burden.
West Hartford resident Teresa Burger cringes every six months, every time her property tax bill arrives. For three decades, she has lived in town in an approximately 1,600-square foot, three-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath house.
"Being on a fixed income and retired, I think you start watching your pennies and where they go," said Burger. For this most recent year, Burger's property taxes were $7,351.92.
"The cost of the taxes has definitely surpassed what our incomes are doing," she said.
For the first time, Burger and her husband are considering leaving the place they call home in hopes of landing some place less expensive.
"I think we're in trouble in Connecticut," Burger said.
According to the State of Connecticut Office of Policy and Management, the Fiscal Year 2018 mill rate on a home in Salisbury, for example, was set at 11.1. In Avon, the rate is nearly three times that of Salisbury at 30.59. In West Hartford, where Burger lives, the mill rate was four times higher at 40.04. In the city of Hartford, the mill rate was seven times that of Salisbury. In the capital city where a third of the residents live in poverty, it is a high tax burden.
Despite the inequality, University of Connecticut Professor of Public Policy, Mohamad Alkadry, said there are benefits to local control.
"The benefit is that you can control the revenues better," said Alkadry. "I think that local governments should always set their mill rates. Whether or not they need to be assessing all property and doing the property appraisal every year and setting that is what varies every year," he added.
Not everyone believes that a tax base made up of 169 different municipalities is sustainable, including former Connecticut State Senator Gary LeBeau, who said there is an unwillingness to change in a place often referred to as “the land of steady habits.”
"We're making it difficult for people live here and to stay here," said LeBeau, who is among those who believe a more regional government approach could lead to lower taxes. The idea of municipalities sharing resources, cutting overhead and administrative costs, and consolidating schools and other departments would be a departure from the status quo. LeBeau knows it would be a tough sell to many people.
"Of course those people are not going to jump on board," said LeBeau. "And where are those people? Those people are embedded in the political system."
The status quo is forcing cities and towns to make tough financial choices. The mayor of the 1,600-resident community of Scotland, for instance, was open to dissolving the town during last year's brutal budget battle. Meanwhile, New Haven and Bridgeport, two cities with similar issues, are collaborating more. In some cases, the cities are even referring to themselves as "Bridgehaven," joining forces on a casino proposal and on a pitch to be home to Amazon's second headquarters, HQ2.
But many of the 169 Connecticut towns and cities are still opting to go it alone, and taxpayers are often picking up the tab.
"We've been paying more and more and I don't think I'm getting more and more, which is part of the frustration," said John Souza, who has owned and operated several rental properties in Hartford and West Hartford for about 30 years.
Souza said local governments should be more open to the concept of regionalizing services.
"We understand that things are going to get more expensive, but they've got to do their best to minimize those increases as much as possible," he said.
Souza recently alerted his tenants that because of his bigger tax bill, their rents would be increasing more than expected.
"I don't usually start my letters with apologies, but it showed them the old tax bill and the new tax bill, did the math for them, per unit, per month explaining why I had to raise the rents the way I did."
He wonders if he will still be a Connecticut resident in the distant future.
"I think I would consider leaving, for sure, if things don't change," he said.
Back at Burger's home, the taxman has already come and gone. Soon Burger may be gone, too.
"This is home to me," said Burger. "And I hate to hear people tell me 'just move.'"
Based on Fiscal Year 2018 information provided by the state Office of Policy and Management, “a mill is equal to $1 of tax for each $1,000 of assessment. To calculate the property tax, multiply the assessment of the property by the mill rate and divide by 1,000. For example, a property with an assessed value of $50,000 located in a municipality with a mill rate of 20 mills would have a property tax bill of $1,000 per year.”
How does your city or town stacks up against the others when it comes to how much you are paying in property taxes and for the car tax?
Here is a town-by-town look based on Fiscal Year 2018 information provided by the state Office of Policy and Management.