Analysis delves into property tax rates across state

HARTFORD — Property tax rates for homeowners and businesses are rising in dozens of municipalities across the state, according to an analysis released last week.

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities reported tax rates increased in 79 out of 122 municipalities for the 2020 fiscal year that opened on July 1. CCM was verifying the data for the other 47 municipalities that were scheduled for property revaluations in 2018.

Executive Director Joe DeLong said the findings reinforce the need for providing adequate municipal aid to help with property tax relief, expanding powers of local governments to raise revenue beyond property taxes and giving towns and cities greater authority to control local costs.

According to CCM’s calculations, local property taxes now total more than $11 billion, accounting for 72% of all local revenue. In contrast, the state income tax is budgeted to raise $10.7 billion to support the state’s adopted 2020 budget of $21.3 billion.

The CCM analysis found 59 municipalities saw rates exceed the 1.6% inflation rate reported for Connecticut.

The town of Norfolk’s 14.47% increase led the state. The tax rate increased from 23.57 mills to 26.98. A mill equals $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value. Tax assessments are based on 70% of a property’s fair market value.

A 9.74% increase ranked the town of Woodbury fifth. The mill rate there increased from 26.58 mills to 29.17 mills. The town of Bethlehem recorded a 10.93% increase, ranking third.

Some cities and towns maintained mill rates at the previous year’s level, including Beacon Falls.

The tax rate in Beacon Falls has remained flat at 35.9 mills for the last two years.

“We have a history of bringing the town’s budget in at a reasonable number,” Beacon Falls First Selectman Christopher Bielik said.

Bielik attributed the flat rate to a spirit of collaboration and cooperation between the town’s Board of Finance and Board of Selectmen. He said officials know there is a level of service needed to run the town, but also stress fiscal constraint.

Bielik also pointed to the town’s use of surplus funds to buy capital items outside of the operating budget. This fiscal year, the town is using $366,809 from the excess unassigned general fund balance for capital projects, including a down payment on a new ambulance for Beacon Hose Co. No. 1 and body cameras for police officers.

Other communities with no increases included New Haven, Seymour and Waterbury.

Others were able to slightly reduce their tax rates. The borough of Naugatuck’s tax rate was cut 2.28% to 47.25 mills.

Naugatuck is one of the municipalities that recently completed a revaluation. Whether residents saw a reduction in their property taxes depended of how their assessments fared under the revaluation.

Naugatuck’s tax rate has stayed relatively flat in recent years despite bigger budgets because of fiscal conservatism and a growing tax base, Naugatuck Board of Finance Chairman Dan Sheridan said.

A $1 million transfer from the borough’s fund balance helped officials push the tax rate down this spring, he said. But the lower rate would not have been possible if borough departments weren’t consistently ending the fiscal year with surpluses, he said.

“It was a combination of a couple things,” he said. “We scrutinize every expense. We’ve been pretty lucky in not having any major off-budget items that would affect contingency, and we’ve had a fairly conservative use of contingency funds.”

Stringent purchasing practices enacted by the borough’s new comptroller and Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess’ business-friendly approach have also helped keep tax rates steady, he said. Borough officials have made a concerted effort to rebuild the borough’s grand list with residential and small business development after three major industrial taxpayers — Uniroyal, the Peter Paul Candy Manufacturing Company and Risdon Manufacturing Company — closed their doors.

“Twenty years ago if you looked at Naugatuck, probably over half the grand list was generated by industry,” he said. “We’re trying to build up Naugatuck and bring in more business and residential properties, too.”

Prospect also shaved its tax rate slightly from 31 mills last fiscal year to 30.95 this year.

“First of all, I’m very cheap,” said Prospect Mayor Robert Chatfield about reducing the tax rate.

Chatfield said the town achieved the reduction through cooperation with the Town Council and scrutinizing budget requests from department heads.

“We do this the old fashion way, line by line by line,” Chatfield said.

The town also offset spending increases with increases in revenue, including $300,000 in additional tax revenue from an increase in the grand list and an anticipated $200,000 from the sale of three town vehicles. The town also used $166,665 from its unreserved fund balance as revenue in the budget, which the town hasn’t done in years.

Other towns that lowered tax rates included Bridgeport, Meriden, Morris, New Hartford, Norwich, Sharon, Stamford and Watertown.

A CCM spokesman said this is first such comprehensive analysis that the statewide association of cities and towns prepared on local tax increases.

Martha Shanahan and Elio Gugliotti contributed to this story.