By Elio Gugliotti, Editor
PROSPECT — The town’s property tax rate will increase by about 2% in the 2020-21 fiscal year.
The Town Council June 2 unanimously set the 2020-21 tax rate at 31.60 mills, which is an increase of 0.65 mills, or roughly 2%, from the present rate.
A mill equals $1 in taxes for every $1,000 of assessed property value. Under a tax rate of 31.60 mills, a taxpayer with property assessed at $100,000 will pay $3,160 in taxes. For a home assessed at $200,000, a 0.65-mill increase equals a tax increase of $130.
The council set the tax rate a week after adopting a $9.1 municipal budget for 2020-21. The town budget increases municipal spending by $6,445 over this fiscal year. Combined with Prospect’s share of the school budget for Region 16, which is comprised of Prospect and Beacon Falls, the town’s total operating budget for 2020-21 is $34.5 million.
An increase of about $1.4 million in the town’s net education cost — the portion of the school budget funded through local taxes — is the main driving factor in the increase in the tax rate. While the school budget kept overall education spending flat at about $40.7 million, the town’s net cost went up largely due to an increase in the percentage of students from town.
Council members expressed frustration after working to keep town spending down but still ending with a tax rate increase.
Council member Megan Patchkofsky said she bothered Mayor Robert Chatfield ad nauseam reviewing revenue figures in an effort to avoid a tax increase.
Council member Theresa Graveline said the council did a great job with the municipal budget and she was disappointed officials couldn’t keep the tax rate steady, which they had hoped to do.
“But, reality is what we had to deal with,” she said.
Officials used several one-time revenue sources in the 2020-21 budget to mitigate the increase in the tax rate.
The budget includes more than $1 million in surplus school budget funds as revenue. This includes $488,167 returned to town this fiscal year as credits on its education payments. There is also $550,000 in the budget. This money is the town’s share of an anticipated surplus in the 2019-20 school budget that is mostly from savings due to schools closing because of COVID-19. This money is expected to be returned to the town early next year after the school budget is audited.
The budget also includes $250,000 from the town’s unassigned fund balance, or surplus, as revenue. The unassigned fund balance has about $2.7 million in it, according to budget documents.
While the surplus funds helped mitigate the tax rate increase, the town lost other sources of revenue.
The town’s Education Cost Share grant from the state is decreasing $90,903. Also, revenue from recycling and the sale of town equipment and vehicles is down $175,000. The 2019-20 budget included revenue from the sale of a firetruck and public works vehicles — one-time revenue isn’t available for next fiscal year.