Finance board deadlocks on mill rate vote; First Selectman sets the rate

With Republicans and Democrats on the Board of Finance unable to agree on a mill rate for the new fiscal year, the responsibility to set the mill rate passed to First Selectman Timothy Herbst last week.

By Town Charter, a tax rate must be set by May 25, in preparation for the new fiscal year, starting July 1. With the Board of Finance deadlocked 3-3 last Thursday, the first selectman had to make the decision.

Herbst set the mill rate last Friday of 31.286, an increase of 1.87%, below the current rate of inflation, Herbst said.

“In light of the fact that the average Trumbull homeowner saw a property tax reduction of 3.5%, I am confident that this tax rate maintains and improves upon Town services while keeping Trumbull’s cost of living affordable for our residents,” Herbst said in a release.

One mill is equal to $1 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

The deadlock between Republicans and Democrats on the finance board arose, in part,  during discussion about using  $1 million from the general fund to keep the mill rate increase down. The Democrats were against the use of the fund balance.

Tom Tesoro, a democrat on the finance board said the mill rate increase should accurately reflect this year’s spending, which would mean a roughly 3% increase in the mill rate.

“You want accuracy and transparency at all times and using fund balance is wrong and it creates a funding cliff next year,” Tesoro said. “There is no Dwemocratic tax rate here, all we are saying is Republicans passed this budget and we want it to accurately reflect the spending.”

Tesoro said Democrats presented a plan to give some relief back to taxpayers.

“We proposed the use $1.5 million from surplus and apply a ‘tax credit’ to everyone’s tax bill,” Tesoro said. “The Democrats’ proposal would have actually increased the amount of tax relief by $500,000 more than the Republicans.”

Tesoro said the idea did interest some republicans on the board, but they weren’t sure about the legalities.

“It is a new idea and I think it’s an idea that’s definitely worth exploring,” Tesoro said.

Throughout this year’s budget season Democrats have complained that the first selectman’s proposed budget lacks transparency and bonds items that some argued should be kept in the operating budget. Many Republicans have supported Herbst’s proposal, including reducing the Board of Education request by $1.8 million, which still represents a 2.74% increase for schools.

While the first selectman had to set the mill rate, it will still be up to the Board of Finance whether to use fund balance or not.

Tesoro said that a few years ago he was among those who approved using fund balance to help offset the tax increase.He called it  a big mistake.

“I have a firm belief that using the fund balance is a mistake,” Tesoro said. “The mill rate and corresponding tax increase should reflect the spending that has been approved — other than that it’s a game.”