Category Archives: Taxes

Budget “adjustments” promise pain

The town manager laid out for the council what it will take to reach different tax hike percentages. Here’s a PDF of the information that the council got.

I imagine that once the council picks how much it wants to cut, the town manager and school superintendent will lay out what specific cuts can be made to reach the target. That’s the point where we’ll see the blood and hear the screams. It won’t be pretty.

For those who can’t bear to see the details, to cut the increase for most homeowners from 6.6 percent — the level of the adopted budget that voters gunned down — to 4.5 percent this year would require slashing $3.4 million from the existing spending plan. To get to a 3 percent tax hike means wiping out $5.8 million from the budget. A tax freeze would take $10.6 million.

The numbers are just plain scary.

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Filed under budget, News, referendum, Taxes, town council, West Hartford

Home values rise with test scores

A fascinating story in Sunday’s New York Times provides proof that school test scores make a huge difference in home prices, even within our tiny town.

Based on “new study by seven professors and students at Trinity College,” the story says the data proves that “prices within a town can fluctuate, even by neighborhood, based on the strength of the local elementary school,.”

Using information from 8,736 home sales between 1996 and 2005 in West Hartford, the study “examined the relationship between grade-school test scores and home prices” in each of the town’s 11 elementary school districts.

It found that as test scores rose, so did home prices “in specific and predictable increments.”

“In fact, every 12-percentage-point difference in scores on the Connecticut Mastery Tests, the standardized exams that students in Grades 3 through 8 take every year, is worth $5,065 to those buying or selling a home, according to the study, called ‘School Choice in Suburbia: Public School Testing and Private Real Estate Markets.’ the study determined.

As a result, the study found that the Bugbee district, which has homes that closely resemble those in the Whiting Lane district, has higher home prices because students at Bugbee score about 12 points higher on the CMTs.

Read the story. It’s fascinating.

There is in this, of course, all the proof that any rational person should need that spending money to improve our schools leads directly to higher home values. Let the scores slip and so do home prices.

People can complain all they like about property tax bills, but the reality is that we either pay for our schools through taxes and have great education for our kids or we pay for our schools through falling home values and have a lesser education for our kids. It’s as simple as that.

The only choice we don’t have is to keep housing prices up and taxes down. It ain’t happening, folks, however much we’d all like to have chocolate truffles growing on every dandelion.

If anyone can find a working link to the study, please post it!

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Filed under budget, education, housing, Schools, Taxes, tests

Resident pleads for ‘Yes’ vote

This email & an addendum came in to me today. They seem worth sharing: 

I doubt there is anyone left who is unaware of this, but we are going
to referendum on Tuesday to support or send back the town budget.
Whatever your opinion, you should make it to the polls, so that we
really know what the majority of WH wants.  If you listen to the West
Hartford Tax Payer’s Association, then we are all unhappy with the
budget and are demanding more cuts.  They got the signatures to force
the referendum.  However, after speaking to some people who DID sign
the petitions, they were not necessarily fully aware of the situation.
I also don’t know how many of them realized that the highest officers
of the WHTA are home-schooling and/or sending their kids to private
schools.  It would seem to me that the stakes are not as high for them
in terms of cut-backs in education.

I am not afraid to stand up and tell you I am voting YES to support the
budget.  Like many of you, I am unhappy with the current state of the
cuts made by the BOE, but a NO vote will NOT get those back – it will
only force more cuts.  If you live in WH for the quality of the West
Hartford Public Schools and the other municipal services that we are
offered, then you should join me in voting YES.

I am, like many, confused by the article in Friday’s Courant about the
“lies” and both sides are now calling the others liars.  I can
understand that we need to fight more for our share of ECS funds.
Perhaps there could be some changes made that don’t effect the
programs.  But stuck in the middle of it all is our children, and if we
don’t support the budget now, that is where the cuts will be made – to
our classrooms and to our kids.  If you want to see a restructuring
that will change things in the coming years, then I urge you to get
involved earlier in the process next year.  The schools start preparing
the budget in the fall and by March the administration is presenting it
to the BOE.

When we got the letter from Jim Francis explaining the coming
year’s taxes, we realized it will not be nearly as bad as we expected.
Yes it’s going up, but not dramatically.  I believe them when they say
that as revaluation is phased in, the mill rate will go down.  Maybe it
will never reach the 29 mill rate the mayor has indicated, but I’d like
to believe it will indeed go down, and will balance off the increases
proportionately.  If we continue to make cuts to our services, we may
have lower taxes but what will happen to our property values?

Yes – I am a WHPS teacher, but I’m also a graduate, as was my dad, and
we intend our children to be, as well.  I can tell you from the inside
that many decisions are on hold until this budget is solidified.  New
teachers (like my daughter’s teacher who was a long-term sub this year
and has been offered a position for next year) are not able to sign
contracts until they find out if there are going to be shifts due to
classroom sizes being increased, or Quest being cut, or Kindergarten
going to 1/2 day.  In all cases, tenured teachers will bump out the
newer ones.  That means grade level changes, school changes, and new
curriculums to be learned – which is not necessarily awful but it does
effect our kids on a daily basis.  As any teacher can tell you, the
first year in a new position is a learning year.

If you are interested, there is a West Hartford blog in which you can
see, and participate, in discussions about our town.  It’s being
managed by a WH dad and some of our town officials are even adding to
the discourse.  Unfortunately, some people have resorted to
name-calling and are a bit overly dramatic, but if you skim through
some of those and find the good stuff, you can learn a lot about what
is going on:   https://whdad.wordpress.com/

As stated by Kiernan Majerus-Collins, a 6th grade Quest student, at the
May 29th public hearing, “People don’t move to West Hartford for the
tax breaks, they move to West Hartford for the education.”   (Watch for
Kiernan in future political races 15-20 years from now!)

Feel free to pass this message along, (or shorten it if you wish… but
please don’t misquote me.)  I am hopeful that there won’t be any
ramifications to me – as I’ve seen some not-so-nice stuff on that
blog… I’m just another concerned tax-payer and mom who wants to urge
you to vote on Tuesday, and hope that you vote YES.

Hello again…
I do apologize for bothering you again, but I have to set one thing
straight.  I was just looking at the ad taken out by the WHTA on the
front of the Trade Winds today.  I don’t know about the rest of the
numbers, but I can tell you with certainty that WH teachers do not have
$3.00 co-payments on healthcare.  I’ve been here for 5 years and
they’ve never been that low.  The below excerpt is on the WH Blog, from
a memo written by Jim Francis to the Town Council, and has been there
since June 9th – so I suppose they would have already submitted their
ad.  The memo was submitted to the blog by Chuck Coursey.  The memo
itself is dated June 5th.
https://whdad.wordpress.com/2007/06/09/vote-yes-on-the-budget/

       • The Taxpayers say the average co-payments are $3.00. I do not know
where this comes from but the co-pays for teachers,     administrators,
professionals, and nurses are: office visit -$20; emergency room – $75;
Inpatient hospital – $75; Prescription drug – $5 for    generic, $20 for
brand formulary, and $35 for brand non-formulary.

I’m not calling anyone a liar – but they should really get their facts
straight before they take out ads on the front of a paper.  I wouldn’t
let my students put that kind of misinformation in a school research
project, and they’d have to cite their sources, to boot.

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Filed under education, News, referendum, Taxes, town council, West Hartford Taxpayers Association

Vote yes on the budget

Look, I’m disgusted with the cuts in education that have already been made, as are many others. But at this point, what’s done is done. Maybe next year we can push for more.

This year, though, we have to choose whether to support a flawed budget or vote it down. If it gets knocked down, it will be widely interpreted — wrongly, I think — that taxpayers want more sliced away from already lean spending plan. So there’s no choice except to back the budget and make sure that officials don’t pare it further.

It’s important to say  yes to the budget because at this point it’s the only way we have to say yes to education, to say yes to our schools, to say yes to the service and programs that make our town such an attractive place, and to say yes to the kids who are our future.

A no vote puts fear above hope and tells everyone that West Hartford may be ready to cut education in order to cut taxes for years to come. That would undermine our home values, scare off talented families who might move here and put us on the road to ruin.

There’s no option except to vote yes.

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Filed under News, referendum, Taxes

Taxpayers group springs for BBQ!

The June meeting of the West Hartford Taxpayers Association is going to be held on June 22 at Therese McGrath’s place on Richmond Road.

Called the “MDC (Many Dedicated Citizens) Bash and BBQ” the group is touting the event as “a celebration to thank each and every taxpayer for all of their hard work to help lower our taxes.”

It’s a bring-your-own-lawn-chair-and-side-dish kind of thing, but the BBQ is courtesy of the WHTA, which is as good a way to spend its money as I can envision.

If you want to attend — and who wouldn’t? — check out the WHTA website, link somewhere to the right of the page here, and call Theresa.

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Filed under budget, referendum, Taxes, Theresa McGrath, West Hartford Taxpayers Association

West Hartford’s schools are the key to the town’s success

Realtor Amy Bergqist’s wonderful “In the Neighborhood” blog takes aim at the referendum sought by the West Hartford Taxpayers Association. In her post on the issue, Bergquist writes, “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.'”

Something to ponder.

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Filed under budget, education, News, Property taxes, referendum, Schools, Taxes, town council, West Hartford, West Hartford Taxpayers Association

No more mystery from “the responsible center”

It’s time to fess up about the mystery cuts that the town council seems to believe could salvage the Board of Education budget.

So far, we’re getting mere hints and assurances that the $1.5 million the schools need can be found without wiping out Quest, slashing sports, eliminating the extra help our most troubled schools need and so on.

Sorry, but that’s not enough.

The school board has a terrifying list of proposed cuts that would drastically impact the lives on many students, leaving some of them cut off from the extra assistance they need to achieve their potential.

That’s not my idea of “the responsible center,” as the mayor put it to reporters yesterday.

What’s most frustrating is that all we’re hearing from town officials is that we should trust them.

Well, I had a professor once who told us that every time you hear someone in a movie say “trust me” you can bet your life that anyone who puts his faith in those words is going to face a heap o’ hurt.

So permit me to remain skeptical.

I want details.

The schools have told us what they think it takes to save so much money. What are the alternatives?

Here’s what we’ve been hearing so far from officials who may know some answers:

Mayor Scott Slifka told the Courant yesterday that “the council has believed from day one and we still believe that additional administrative savings can be found that will not impact the classrooms.”

“Those ideas may not be on the board list yet, but I’m very encouraged by the fact that the town and board staff have been working together to reach consensus on those issues. And I think that we should all take a deep breath and continue working on this for the benefit of the kids and the taxpayers,” Slifka told the paper.

Former Lt. Gov. Kevin Sullivan, whose commitment to education can’t be second-guessed after all these years, assures us in a comment on another entry that the school board needs to look “for cuts last in what goes on directly in the classroom and first at exhausting every other possible way to reduce expenditures (including ideas that the town administration has been pointing out to the school administration for awhile now.)”

Another fine politician, Chuck Coursey, also assures us in a comment elsewhere on this blog that the town council “believes that there are additional savings in the Board budget that can be achieved without impacting the classroom. I’m pleased that the Town and Board Administration are working together to identify and reach consensus on those areas.”

Slifka told the Courant, as its reporters paraphrased the comments, “that many of the ideas that led to those cuts – such as trimming administrative costs – have been under discussion for a long time.”

“The council is attempting to balance the need to continue investing in the schools, which we are doing, with the significant fiscal impact on the community as a whole. It’s a very difficult balance,” the mayor told the paper.
“The council is in the middle. The board says it’s not enough; the taxpayers contend it remains too high. And the council is right in the middle – the responsible center. It represents that we are trying to balance the competing needs of the community,” Slifka said, according to the Courant.

One final thought: it’s insulting that Slifka more or less says the Board of Education is not in “the responsible center.”

It’s not the job of the town council to plunk itself down in the middle somewhere between what schools need and what self-styled taxpayer advocates urge. It’s the job of our elected leaders to fight for what’s right and to hold down spending to no more than what’s needed.

But what’s needed is what must be allocated, whatever the threats from those who want to pay less. If we’re going to have to defend a budget from tax fanatics, we want a spending plan that doesn’t leave our school system lagging behind.

 

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Filed under budget, Chuck Coursey, education, Kevin Sullivan, News, Property taxes, referendum, Schools, Scott Slifka, Taxes, town council, West Hartford