3.19% budget hike approved by city

TAYLOR MURCHISON-GALLAGHER

STAFF WRITER

The City Council and Board of Finance approved the 2019-2020 general fund budget of $200,614,740, with a mill rate of 38.05, at the joint meeting held on Monday, May 20.

The budget is a hike from last year’s total of $194,409,185. The current mill rate is 36.88.

BOF chair John Smith, explained that the budget represents a 3.19 percent increase, which translates to an increase of 1.17 mills or a 3.17 percent tax increase.

The 38.05 mill rate means that if a resident’s home is valued at $100,000, $3,805 in taxes is being paid each year.

Board of Finance Republicans Cheryl Thibeault and Jake Carrier voted against the general fund budget, as well as the mill rate increase.

Thibeault said there have been “a lot of increases in salaries this year that maybe could have not been as generous or occurred.”

“You have to admit that over 3 percent increase this year, and with multiple years that we have been doing that, the taxpayer of Bristol do not get that kind of increase,” said Carrier. “You tell me, how far can we go along increasing by 2 to 3 percent when our grand list increased by less than a percent? How long do you think it will take in Bristol to crumble?”

Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu explained all salaries, including seven contracts, were increased by a total of 2.41 percent. “I will stand by that every day of the week because we are getting better services, better leadership, and better everything based on how this place is being run today,” said Zoppo-Sassu.

Zoppo-Sassu stated six city positions have been eliminated since last April; changes have been made to the pensions to reduce the benefits for future employees; and the city has switched to a high deductible healthcare plan.

Last year, she and other city officials worked with the police union, fire union, and general retirement representatives to do a pension reorganization and recognize the fund as one. Zoppo-Sassu said the move saved the city from making a $3.6 million contribution last year, a $4 million contribution this year, and will save another $30 to $40 million in the next 20 years.

Smith said the city’s “grand list increase from $3.917 billion to $3.945 billion generates an estimated $1.4 million in new tax revenue at the current rate (36.88).”

Smith said state funding estimates remain “relatively constant with 2018-2019,” except for the Education Cost Sharing grant. ECS is estimated to be fall by $410,000. However, he said, increases in investment income ($225,000), building permit fees ($115,000), and motor vehicle supplemental tax ($300,000) will offset some of the ECS reduction.

Motor vehicle taxes will be due July. Real estate taxes can be paid in two installments, one on July 1, and the other Jan. 1, 2020.

“The task of the Board of Finance was to consider all information and develop a balanced budget for 2019-2020 that would continue to provide outstanding services to the residents and businesses located in Bristol,” said Smith. “Strategic planning is critical, not only from a financial perspective, but also because it provides the elements necessary for those involved to recognize and adapt to the issues that will have to be addressed and be solved in the future.”

A motion was made to accept the capital improvement budget ($7,034,615), but Thibeault made a counter motion, asking for the $100,000 earmarked for the city-wide fiber optic network study be removed. Thibeault’s motion was seconded by Carrier.

Thibeault, who cited information from the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, felt that the city did not have authority to establish the network.

Zoppo-Sassu said a bill before state senate may open the door that PURA currently has shut.

But. Thibeault said, the network would be a “bad investment on behalf of taxpayers.” She asked why allocating $100,000 to a study regarding the fiber couldn’t be put off for another year.

The capital improvement budget passed, including the $100,000 for the fiber optic study. Carrier and Thibeault voted against it.

The remaining budget line items passed with unanimous approval.

To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Taylor Murchison-Gallagher, email her at TMurchison@BristolObserver.com.