A Referendum on the Way in West Hartford?

According to an article today in the Hartford Courant, the West Hartford Taxpayers Association (WHTA) is about 400 signatures away from forcing a referendum on the recently adopted town budget.

While I understand the concern that property taxes will rise by approximately 6.6% for all West Hartford homeowners, I don’t believe cutting the budget is the way to go. West Hartford draws and retains residents because of the perception of excellent services and the public school system it offers. Every weekend I see evidence of this when people from Bloomfield, New Britain, Newington, etc. flood open houses. The reason they are looking to move? “I want my kids to go to the West Hartford schools.”

If the WHTA is successful in collecting the necessary signatures, their recommendation will be to cap the budget at increases of no more than 2.5% each year. Since inflation is typically 2.5-3%, essentially they are suggesting that the town remain at status quo and just grow with inflation. However, the West Hartford school system cannot afford to shift to status quo. Since 1996, the WH public schools have seen total enrollment increase by 16.3%. Additionally, the district faces the challenge of 18% of students with English as a second language and 12% of the students qualifying for special education programs. The result of capping the budget increase would be to reduce the spending on the bulk of the students to provide necessary special services. If West Hartford wishes to maintain its reputation regarding public schools, then it needs to continue investing in the education of its youngsters. That will not be achieved by arbitrarily capping the budget.

West Hartford Electronics Recycling Day- May 5

From the Hartford Courant on April 12, 2007…

West Hartford town officials announced an electronics recycling day on Saturday, May 5. Residents who have old household electronic equipment they want to dispose of can recycle the items at no charge.

Recycling will take place at the town’s public works facility at 25 Brixton St. from 9:00am to noon.

Residents can recycle the following items: computers, monitors, printers, cell phones, televisions, video-cassette recorders, copiers, fax machines, radios, stereos, and rechargeable nickel-cadium batteries.

No commercial electronics will be accepted. Proof of residency will be required.

If you would like more information, visit the vendor’s website at We Recycle.

West Hartford Taxes

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?