Proposed budget goes before public

Catherine Mieth of Bluebird Drive holds up a newspaper article in which now Mayor N. Warren ‘Pete’ Hess made a campaign promise to lower taxes in the borough at a hearing on the budget Thursday night. The proposed budget lowers spending, but taxes will still go up due to an anticipated decrease in funding from the state. -LARAINE WESCHLER/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

NAUGATUCK — Taxes will go up under a proposed budget plan, despite a decrease in spending.

With the state in a “period of chaos and confusion,” Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said the borough is budgeting conservatively in the face of uncertainty over revenues from the state.

Board of Finance Chairwoman Diane Scinto reviewed the proposed $121 million budget line by line Thursday, but the public was more interested in the big picture.

“Explain why our taxes are so high,” said Shirley Anderson of Joseph Road.

The proposed budget would raise taxes from 47.67 mills to 48.56 mills, which would be a $178 increase in taxes for a home valued at $200,000. A mill is $1 in taxes for every $1,000 in assessed property value.

Scinto said because property values are lower in Naugatuck than smaller surrounding towns, the tax rate has to be higher to raise the same amount of revenue.

“If all our homes were worth more, the mill rate would be lower,” Scinto said.

Hess said home prices in Naugatuck are turning around after eight years of decline.

“This year, we believe that Naugatuck real property values have increased by about 5 percent,” Hess said.

That number will be verified once the borough goes through a revaluation later this year.

Hess said he plans to increase the grand list of taxable property by developing the Uniroyal property near the Naugatuck River as an industrial park and transportation hub. Such a project, if successful, would allow the borough to lower taxes, he said.

For 40 years, Hess said the town has been battling an ever increasing tax rate as industry left and the borough failed to invest in its infrastructure. Town amenities, like the recently created dog park and good roads, help increase the value of property, he said.

“The more attractive our town is, the more property values will go up,” Hess said.

Many other towns with lower mill rates also don’t pay for big ticket items like trash pickup and a professional fire department, Hess said.

Just because other towns have lower mill rates doesn’t mean they pay less in taxes, Finance Board Vice Chairman Andrew Bottinick said.

“I guarantee you they pay a lot more money per capita than we do,” Bottinick said of Middlebury.

Hess said that taxes are going up because of a state law that caps the tax rate for cars at 32 mills. For Naugatuck, that would mean a $700,000 loss in revenue. Although Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposed budget increases funding to Naugatuck by about $1 million, Hess believes it is unlikely the borough will see that money.

“Revenues are uncertain at this point, so we’re trying to be conservative and have a conservative plan to put before you,” Hess said. “Even though spending is down, we’re also spending on things that have been neglected for many, many years and should be addressed.”

Catherine Mieth of Bluebird Drive said she wants to see more factories in town to bolster the grand list.

“I don’t think you’re being conservative with the budget,” Mieth said. “Every year I come here, the mill rate goes up. Put something in here that’s going to draw revenue into the town so you can lower my taxes so I can sell my house when I retire and get the hell out of here. Don’t tell me that you’re doing something for me because you’re not.”

Hess said the borough has added $30 million in taxable real estate to the grand list since he’s been in office.

Scinto said further cuts, to items like fireworks, or recreation programs would lower the quality of life and hurt the borough in the long run.

“We can’t control what Hartford does,” Scinto said.

Only nine members of the public attended Thursday’s budget hearing, far less than the usual turnout.