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Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, July 11, 2013
Mill rate set, Stonington taxes up less than 1 percent

by Alice Wilkinson

Although the Stonington selectmen did approve the tax commitment for this year, much of the time at the July 8 meeting was devoted to the state’s role in the town’s finances.

After reviewing three scenarios drawn up by Town Manager Kathleen Billings-Pezaris, the selectmen chose the middle route, with a mill rate of 0.01480, or $14.80 per thousand dollars of valuation. That raises taxes on a $100,000 house by $123, to $1,480. Last year the same house would have been taxed $1,357 because the mill rate was lower.

Selectman Richard Larrabee complained, “We’ve tried to keep our mill rate down every year and the school [budget] keeps going up.” Agreeing, Billings-Pezaris said the school budget is up by 3 percent.

No one from the school board came to the selectmen during the school’s budget process, nor did the superintendent, which is a first, said selectmen. The lack of input did not please the selectmen, who said that even if it’s the superintendent’s first year on the job, someone on the board should have told him to come before the selectmen.

It isn’t only the school budget that the town is dealing with. This year the amount the town gets from state revenue-sharing is $23,000. Last year it was $32,000, and in 1999 it was $70,000. Further, income from building permits is down this year, and there is a threat that the state will claim excise taxes which currently come to the town.

In response to a suggestion that more money could be taken from surplus to lessen the tax burden, Billings-Pezaris said the recommendation from financial experts is that a town have two or three months’ operating expenses saved for an emergency.

Selectman Evelyn Duncan said that having money in reserve makes it possible to get loans. Then she said that if the town had collected more than it needed, that money could be returned next year, or put in reserve.

Selectman Chris Betts said Duncan had been holding that carrot out for years, and now it’s “really withered.” Larrabee agreed.

An amendment to a bill before the legislature narrowly averted another town loss. There was a bill to require towns to return whatever was realized on the sale of tax-acquired property, after the taxes and liens were paid, back to the owners who had failed to pay the taxes to begin with.

Arguing that would put the town in the position of selling real estate for the owners of the tax-acquired property, the selectmen were pleased by the amendment to L.D. 851, which gives the responsibility for disbursal of the funds realized by sale back to the municipalities, to do with as they choose.

Billings-Pezaris said more work needs to be done on the ball field, but it is much improved. The selectmen also touched briefly on a problem with parking on Bayview Street.