December 14, 2012

Fairfield, Oakland officials avoiding tax hikes as new budgets take shape

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling
Staff Writer

Town leaders in Fairfield and Oakland are trying to avoid property tax increases as they gear up for next year's budget cycle.

Department heads in both towns are preparing budgets to present to their town councils.

In Fairfield, Town Manager Josh Reny said his town is following a goal, set in January, of protecting property owners from tax increases.

The Town Council's goals, emphasizing tax relief, say the council will work "to lower taxation with respect to the municipal budget and will seek innovative and sustainable solutions."

Because of this, Reny said, the town is "operating under a goal of no tax increases."

In July, the property tax rate increased from $19.20 to $19.70 per $1,000 of assessed value, an increase that Reny attributed to a greater local burden from Fairfield-based Regional School Unit 49. The municipal budget has been reduced by about $240,000 during the last two years.

A budget could increase or decrease and still result in a flat property tax, Reny said, because revenue from other sources, such as excise taxes or grants, could change.

"The idea is to make it neutral at the end," he said.

In Oakland, where the property tax rate is $13.50 per $1,000 of assessed value, Town Manager Peter Nielsen said he, too, has been asked to draft a budget that has no property tax increase.

He said the council will entertain presentations from department heads that include budget increases, but that the budget increase proposals may go unfunded.

Council members "weren't slamming the door to considering ideas," Nielsen said.

The town's budget for the current fiscal year increased by 1.46 percent from the previous year. Most of the $63,000 increase is attributable to new a municipal building reserve fund.

Nielsen said a tax-neutral budget isn't as simple as giving each department the same amount of money.

Some fixed costs, such as those for fuel and health insurance rates, are increasing.

"We have some things working in the other direction," he said, including the retiring of some debt costs.

The budgets in both towns will be presented to voters in the spring.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling -- 861-9287

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