Waterford bumps property taxes by 1.4 percent

Waterford — The town finance board on Wednesday backed a 1.4 percent property tax increase for 2018-19, about half the hike officials anticipated in recent weeks, due to greater-than-expected state and municipal revenues.

Next year's tax rate will increase by 0.39 mill, to 27.42 mills. A home assessed at the town's median value of about $132,000 will pay $3,619 in taxes, about a $52 increase over this year.

Last week, the Representative Town Meeting approved a $93 million budget, which spread about $2.4 million in increased spending across town departments, capital projects and schools. School and town officials said required contractual raises, and higher retirement and health insurance costs totaling about $590,000, drove the increase.

Finance board member Bill Sheehan and other officials initially anticipated about a 3 percent property tax increase. But that potential bump was offset with a mix of payments-in-lieu-of-taxes totaling about $250,000 restored by the state last week and slightly higher-than-expected collections in a range of town fees.

On the advice of Finance Director Kevin McNabola, the board chose not to offset the property tax hike even further with about $322,000 in Educational Cost Sharing funding from the state. The state increased Waterford's total ECS by $70,000 last week but the board will instead place the entire amount in the general fund, in part because of volatility in recent state budgets.

"I wouldn't include it," McNabola said. "ECS is usually the first thing to get cut."

The 2017-18 budget saw an increase of only about a quarter of a mill due to a $1.2 million tax revenue boost, largely from Millstone Power Station improvements.

First Selectman Dan Steward said the town recently formed a Long Range Financial Planning Committee, which will work on ways to protect the town from instability over the next five, 10 or 15 years, especially considering long-term uncertainty with Millstone and continually rising costs. 

"We don't know how long Millstone is going to stay in place," he said, noting the committee will review "what our finances are going to look like as we go forward. Can we get more money from the state and federal government? Right now we only get about $1 million in total grants from the state. Everything we buy is from taxpayers. We want to make sure we give taxpayers the best value we can."

The Representative Town Meeting last week backed a $48.3 million school budget without any changes. Superintendent Tom Giard said he'd work with the town to find and create efficiencies and present a clearer picture of school staffing in future budgets.

The RTM also approved at least $300,000 in added police department spending, in part to hire two more officers to help cut down overtime costs. The RTM approved about $492,000 in total police overtime for 2017-18; about $515,000 is proposed for 2018-19. Town officials don't expect to see the overtime budget decrease for another two years, until the new officers are on full-time duty.



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