Report by Paula Antolini
April 3, 2017 1:29PM EDT
OPINION/ LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Letter to the Editor from Billy Michael, BAC: Agree with Taxpayers Who Oppose Any Increase in the Current Mill Rate
On March 20th, Bethel’s sharply divided Board of Finance (split 4 – 3 in favor) presented a proposed $72.6 million annual town budget to Bethel residents.
The majority of attendees supported the proposed 2.4% spending increase. Compared to area towns on the Equalized Mill Rate scale, (an “apples to apples” comparison index of municipal tax rates), Bethel is the second highest in the Housatonic region, surpassed only by Newtown.
Considering that Bethel’s personal wealth ranking is lower than most area towns, and its comparative tax rate is high, annual budget wars are inevitable. But not all residents object to higher taxes. Increases are loyally supported by students’ families, library devotees, and Progressives.
The irony is that Bethel school enrollment (currently 3046) remains flat, despite decades of grand list growth and associated population density.
In 1976, enrollment was 3636 students with far fewer households than the current 7300 PennySaver addressees. When the BAC sent townwide mailings in 1987, there were approximately 6500 homes, a town population of 16,000 and a student body of about 3300, representing 20% of the population.
Today’s 3046 students reflects just 16% of the town population of 18,500. Thirty years of school spending hikes, due largely to increased teacher/administrator salaries and benefits, has brought spending from just over $3,000 in 1986 to a current $15,000 per pupil!
Because 85% of Bethel’s school budget is consumed by union contracted labor costs and a remaining 9% by other purchased services, such as transportation and tuition, the Board of Finance has jurisdiction over the tiniest sliver of school spending. So, if the goal of the Board of Finance is to reduce spending, they have no choice but to reduce head count!
Although teachers and administrators salaries and benefits are not solely responsible for Connecticut’s enormous deficit, it is increased labor costs that exacerbate it. Because of years and years of collective bargaining, unreimbursed cost-sharing funds from the state, and unfunded mandates, Connecticut property taxes have become so insurmountable that taxpayers have no choice but to flee the state!
The Bethel Action Committee reflects the views of taxpayers who oppose any increase in the current mill rate.
Photo: Billy Michael.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the letter writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Bethel Advocate.