Democrats’ Budget Lowers Stewart Tax Increase, Increases Education Funding

The City Council approved a city budget on June 9, 2018 that would lower the amount of the tax increase proposed by Republican Mayor Erin Stewart and increase education funding.

The amendment to Stewart’s budget proposal that was made by the Democratic Council majority and opposed the Council’s Republicans, cut $1,745,844 from the City Hall budget and lowered the mill rate 50.50 proposed by Stewart to 49.97.

Meanwhile the Democratic-proposed budget amendment increased education funding by $429,171. Stewart had proposed no increase in school funding.

The Democrats budget cut city spending by a net amount of $1,316,673 from Stewart’s budget plan. The cuts include eliminating funding for the city’s lobbyist and eliminating department head positions and other positions. One of positions eliminated is the city Human Right Officer.

Stewart’s press release, when she made her budget proposal in April, said that she, “presented to the Common Council a $237.72 million budget for 2018-19 that calls for no tax increase and an overall reduction in spending.”

But, at the June 9th meeting, Ald. Carlo Carlozzi, Jr. (D-5), the Council Majority Leader, said, of Stewart’s budget plan, that it, “was said that there were no new taxes, and that is absolutely not true.”

“This has been a diversion of what is really happening in this budget in that it is a tax increase,” said Carlozzi. He said that, under Stewart’s proposed budget, “People are going to get a tax increase, anywhere from a couple of hundred bucks to a couple of thousand. As we heard one resident say whose property went up dramatically because of where she is located. She will get a $2,200 rate increase next year, because the mill rate is the same, but her valuation increased.”

While Stewart’s proposed budget for the 2018-2019 budget year would keep the property tax mill rate at 50.50, that same rate would result in an increase in overall taxes because the amount of property valuations used to calculate property taxes went up due to the recent once-every-five-years property tax revaluation.

In January, Stewart announced that the property tax revaluation had resulted in an overall 6.27% increase in the taxable valuation of property in the city. Keeping the overall amount taxes the same would have meant lowering the amount of the city’s mill rate enough to keep that 6.27% from resulting in higher taxes.

The Council approved their budget at a rare Saturday meeting that Stewart had called after budget discussions continued through the last week before the June 10th deadline for the Council to act.

On June 10th, the New Britain Herald quoted Stewart’s accusation that Democrats did not include her in creating their budget amendment, saying, “I wish someone would have taken the time to include me as part of their discussions on wishes to make reductions.”

But Democrats said that was the whole truth.

Council President President Pro-Tempore, Eva Magnuzewski (D-AL) said that, “we asked the Mayor and Ald. Smedley for a meeting Thursday or Friday night. They both had fundraisers.”

Stewart is a candidate for the Republican nomination for Lieutenant Governor, while Ald. Robert Smedley (R-4), the Republican’s Council leader, is a candidate for State Senate.

Magnuzewski said that Council Democrats unsuccessfully asked Republicans to meet to discuss budget plans on two occasions.

Carlozzi also said that when Council Democrats reached out to Republicans for budget discussions, “the message we were told, when we requested at the end of April to meet, was no. We are very happy with the Mayor’s budget.”

All nine Council Democrats voted in favor of the amended budget, while five of the six Council Republicans voted against it. Ald. Jamie Giantonio (R-1) was absent from the meeting.

The Council-approved budget is now on Stewart’s desk. The City Charter gives Stewart the power to veto, “the budget as approved by the Common Council, or any part of such budget.” The Council does officially have the power to override the Mayor’s veto, but, with a Council Republican caucus of six members, Stewart can deny the nine-member Democratic caucus the ability to pass anything without her approval.

But, if Stewart does veto the Council-approved budget, the effect of that veto will be higher taxes and no increase in education funding, since her original proposed budget will then take effect as the city budget, without including the Democrats’ budget changes.