This past Thursday evening I attended the Town Council budget hearing at town hall. The hot topic was the recent property revaluation and new mill rate. It was well attended, I would say over 60 people showed up, even though it was Holy Thursday and Passover.
By my observation, the majority of people were long time West Hartford residents, living in the town anywhere from 25-50 years. Several of the residents that spoke were from multi-generational families of WH. You could sense their great pride for the town, however there was an overwhelming sense of disgust due to the potentially huge increases most are facing with their new tax bills. Many of the attendees were either retired or nearing retirement. It’s not clear to them how they will be able to continue living in WH on fixed incomes. Younger attendees expressed frustration that they were getting priced out of the town because housing prices and tax rates continue to rise. Their jobs simply aren’t paying enough for them to afford living in WH.
Most of the suggestions for reducing the budget revolved around minimizing pay and fringe benefit increases for town employees. Additionally, there were requests to lower the school budget, but no real concrete solutions on how to actually reduce the education budget. Clearly, one of the main draws to WH is it’s school system. It’s a double edge sword to make significant cuts to the school budget, but then continue to expect curriculum, after school activities, and special programs to remain robust.
My belief of what will happen in the next 1-2 years is that WH will see a migration of its Seniors to neighboring communities such as Bloomfield, Farmington, Avon, and Simsbury. These towns have lower taxes, but many of the same services, so Seniors will flock there. House prices in WH will most likely fall because there will be more houses on the market than there will be buyers. Younger buyers that typically would have bought the houses in WH will no longer be able to afford them because of the high tax burden. WH will need to make a decision on if they change the way they tax commercial properties in town. Will Blue Back Square be able to shoulder more of the burden? Will there be enough residents to economically support Blue Back?
The next few years will be an interesting economic experiment for WH. What are your thoughts?