It’s always worth pointing it out when something remarkable happens, and while no doubt there will be quibblers — and no satisfying the “bridge to nowhere” crowd — Meriden’s City Council did a remarkable thing the other day. An adopted $197.3 million budget translates into lowering taxes by .44 percent. That’s a smidgen but, hey, taxes are lowered in this budget.
There’s always a catch, and the complainers will catch it. The whole thing is because of a mistake, in this case a whopper, in which somebody forgot to tax Eversource Energy, which is what you call a major taxpayer, the proper amount. This is not quite like forgetting that Walt Disney is the founder of the Walt Disney Company, but it’s not quite unlike it, either.
In any case, you can imagine there’s already this apprehension that a remarkable budget that lowers taxes, even if it’s just by a smidgen, will be something taxpayers will get used to. You can almost hear the chant forming from the groundswell a year from now: You did it last year, do it again!
You can read the worry in the details. The budget actually grew, by .95 percent, from this year, an increase of $1.8 million. How does a growing budget accomplish the alchemy of lowering taxes? By mistake, of course. Or, in this case, correcting the mistake. The term “unanticipated” sounds better than “mistake,” but let’s be clear, it’s a correction that is bringing some of the $3.4 million in tax revenue from Eversource, which paid up at the beginning of this year after the error, as in under-assessed personal property for a couple of years, was detected.
It’s better than not catching the mistake, of course. And the city gets “a good budget for the taxpayers,” as Mayor Kevin Scarpati put it, in an understatement.
The mayor gets to exercise line-item veto power, if he wishes, but don’t expect tectonic changes. This is a good year for Meriden, and everyone seems to recognize it. Nothing’s perfect, as the mayor observed, “but all things considered, this is something that had bipartisan support.”
This should come as a relief after last year, when taxpayers were so unnerved by a tax increase a petition was signed to force a referendum that in turn forced the council to go back to where it had started and redraw the budget plan.
And there’s probably still unease about what Police Chief Jeffry Cossette is going to do next. The chief cut some popular programs last year in response to the budget cuts, which some saw as playing games or politics or something. Those, the neighborhood policing initiative and cops in schools, were restored, to some degree, but not without a lot of hand-wringing. And, now, there’s this business of funding for a second deputy police chief. The council’s Finance Committee thought cutting $115,000 from the police budget would compel the chief to leave the position vacant, except that Scarpati proposed restoring $67,000 for the position, which would last seven months, after the chief told the council he had no plans to hire a deputy until November.
This is like some kind of fascinating tennis match. Lost in the back-and-forth is a not so insignificant detail, which is that the chief is supposed to report to City Manager Tim Coon.
There are more details to haggle over, but the most significant point is not a detail: a budget that lowers taxes. Scarpati said he’d never seen that in Meriden. He also said he wants to see residents “continue to put pressure on us elected officials.” No problem in that regard, I’d wager.
It’s a moment to celebrate, though it might just be a moment, considering the clouds emanating from Hartford, where financial woes, tolls and taxes threaten to make this all seem quite trivial.
Reach Jeffery Kurz at 203-317-2213, or firstname.lastname@example.org