Car Tax Mill Rate at 32, for Now
WETHERSFIELD - The town-on the advice of its legal counsel-will set its car tax Mill Rate at 32, for now, but that number may change once a state budget is passed, Town Councilors say.

       The Council held a quick special meeting Wednesday night to decide on the number, which Mayor Paul Montinieri had suspected would land at 37 when it was discussed at the regular meeting Monday. He thinks that it may still wind up there.

       “We’re taking this one step at a time,” Montinieri said Wednesday. “I’d like to come in at 37, as that’s what we were advised it’d come in at, and I still think that’s coming.”

       In the event that it does, residents will receive a supplemental tax bill, said Town Manager Jeff Bridges and Finance Director Mike O’Neil.

       The town needed to get its car tax Mill Rate in order to avert a projected $3.3 million budget shortfall come December, according to O’Neil.

       Local officials had been hoping to wait for the passage of a state budget to set the Mill Rate-they held off on it after the spring passage of the municipal level appropriation-but the latest shakeup in Hartford has prompted them to resume the discussion.

       With Governor Malloy expected to veto the Republican budget proposal that cleared both houses of the legislature with the help of several cross party votes from Democrats, Town Councilors have been working to prepare for the scenario in which an executive order stripping 85 municipalities of Education Cost Sharing (ECS) revenue is implemented.

       Wethersfield stands to lose $9.3 million in ECS, should Malloy reject the Republican budget and the legislature fail to come up with a proposal he’s willing to sign by October 1.

       “I don’t think that budget has much likelihood of prevailing, but who knows?” Montinieri said over the phone Monday. “I think there’s a lot of problems, but that’s really not our fight. At the local level, we have to make some decisions on car bills.”

       The Council opted a few months ago to hold off on sending out the automobile tax bills, unsure of whether the Mill Rate would land at 37 or 32. Normally, residents would have received the bills in July.

       A combination of around $5 million in Wethersfield High School renovation project payments, absent Municipal Revenue Sharing-normally, the town would have received it in August-and the zeroing out of ECS would create the $3.3 million hole, O’Neil said at Monday night’s Council meeting.

       The $5 million will eventually be reimbursed by the state, but the town needs to cover it now because it will not receive the money until the project is audited to ensure it stayed within set parameters, O’Neil said.

       Also at stake is the town’s $10.9 million of reserve funds, which would be needed to help close the shortfall, he said.

       On Monday night Montinieri expressed that he hoped to set the car tax at 37 Mills, but wanted to get an opinion from Town Attorney John Bradley before committing to that. The rest of the Council agreed, and the special meeting was set with the goal of meeting a Thursday deadline.

       O’Neil suspects that the shortfall may hit in December, so he’d like to get the car tax bills out by October 1.

       When the Council approved its budget this past spring, they had O’Neil amend the motion to add language that would allow for the adjustment of that Mill Rate to align with whatever the state decides at the end of its own session.

       Prior to Monday night’s meeting, Montinieri said that he would not, in an executive order scenario, be looking to raise the level of taxation on real property.

       “I’m not planning on doing anything that would raise the Mill Rate-that’s not gonna happen,” Montinieri said. “We passed our budget-we’re committed to it.”

       State Representative Tony Guerrera said he doesn’t think it will come to that, despite his expectation that the Republican budget-hailed as a bipartisan budget, due to the votes of several Democratic legislators including Wethersfield’s Paul Doyle-will fail to garner the Governor’s approval.

       “I think there’s a strong urgency to get this done by October 1st,” Guerrera said Monday morning.

       Doyle could not be reached by phone Friday night and Monday, but he told other news outlets that his issue with the Democratic proposal was the introduction of new taxes-over $1.5 billion over the two years combined. A partial shift of teacher pension costs to municipalities were also among the sticking points for some Democrats and Republicans alike.

       Both plans would entail tax increases-although $700 million less on the Republican side-according to coverage in the Connecticut Mirror.

       Doyle also aligned with Republicans to see a greater return on the labor side, according to the Courant. Many Republicans thought the summer SEBAC agreement did not go far enough, and predicated projections in its budget proposal on greater savings generated by higher state employee pension contributions and other reforms-some of which would come to fruition in 2027-according to The Mirror.

       “I’ve had conversations with Paul, and he’s been struggling with it for quite some time,” Montinieri said. “He needed to see structural changes, so we shouldn’t be terribly surprised.”

       Guerrera admitted that he had his own issues with the House Democratic plan, which was anticipated for a Thursday night vote that was delayed.

       “I had major concerns with our budget,” he said. “The taxes on second houses, cell phones-that’s why Thursday, things broke down.”

       He said he also took issue with an 11th hour removal of electronic tolling-a potential eventual source of revenue that he has pushed aggressively for. News headlines had deemed the Democratic budget as “paving the way” toward the initiative, which is why he change caught him off guard.

       “That upset me, and it obviously made me rethink how I was going to vote,” Guerrera said.

       But the proposal that sits on the Governor’s desk has its more controversial components as well-one of the largest being cuts to higher education that Democratic legislators Friday night said would shift the burden to UCONN students in the way of increased tuition.

       Montinieri took issue with that, as well as the elimination of a proposed $46 million of extra aid for the City of Hartford-which is working to avoid bankruptcy and what Mayor Luke Bronin has described as region wide ripple effects.

       “That has a huge economic impact on our region,” Montinieri said.

       The proposal does, however, keep ECS levels intact, he noted.

       “The impact at the local level would be less drastic,” he said. “In the selfish sense, if that prevailed, it would be good for the towns, but as an elected official looking at this statewide, it’d be unbelievable that anyone would implement that.”

       State Representative Russ Morin urged legislators on both sides to “cool off and get back to work”.

       “If he’s [Governor Malloy’s] not going to sign it, I’m not sure what it [the budget’s passage] accomplished, but we can still make something good out of it,” Morin said on Monday. “If you took both [budgets] side by side, there’s probably 75 to 80 percent that we agree on-that’s the good news.”