Given the hard times facing many taxpayers, freshman Republican city Councilor Ken Cockayne said the city should freeze property taxes this year.
“It’s time for the city to bite the bullet and do what needs to be done,” Cockayne said.
Slicing the proposed $173 million budget enough to keep the mill rate from rising would require chopping about $6.3 million from the spending plan approved recently by the Board of Finance.
The finance panel’s budget would push the mill rate up by 6.5 percent this year, an increase that Mayor Art Ward said is too much.
“We gotta dig deeper,” Ward said, and try to push the mill rate hike lower.
But both Ward and city Comptroller Glenn Klocko said that it’s unrealistic to slash deeply enough to freeze property taxes. Ward called Cockayne’s request “irresponsible.”
Klocko said that trying to freeze property taxes would be the start of “dismantling the city’s finances” and a big mistake.
“A tax freeze is not the right thing to do,” Klocko said.
Though former Mayor Frank Nicastro’s administration froze property taxes for four straight years in the 1990s, city leaders have complained ever since that the failure to keep pace with rising demand put a long-term crimp in Bristol’s ability to pay for programs and equipment that residents expect.
Klocko has long advocated regular, predictable increases in property taxes to allow officials to plan for the future and ensure there’s enough money to cover the bills.
Cockayne said, though, that when times are tough, government has to follow the penny pinching lead of residents who are trying to stretch every dollar.
“The only acceptable increase in taxes is no increase,” Cockayne said. “Right now, we have to take a hard stance and freeze taxes.”
Cockayne said he’s being inundated with pleas from constituents to hold the line. He said he’s seen “families in tears” and older residents fearful that fixed incomes won’t cover the bills.
Off the cuff, Klocko said that if he was told to slice more than $6 million from the finance panel’s budget, he would reduce the allocation for education by $1.5 million, ax every request for equipment and probably dig into the rainy day fund for several million dollars.
“It would be very difficult,” Klocko said, and a potentially ruinous mistake.
Ward said it’s simply impossible for the city to hold the line on taxes when it faces soaring energy costs, wage hikes and other expenses that are rising.
With all that, the mayor said, “we’re supposed to stay the same?”
Coming soon: Would it help to make the GASB 45 change that Klocko and Cockayne advocate?
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