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Editorial: Do local property taxes matter?

A couple of years ago a few readers said they were insulted when the Advertiser commented that no residents had come out in public to speak to the Town officials who were putting together expense budgets and tax rates.
The Advertiser surmised that either residents and commercial property owners are not much affected by an increase in local property taxes, or they were not willing to reveal that taxes actually do matter to their households or tenants. Whatever the reason, there was not a peep from the public as elected and appointed officials and Town staff spent over three months, as they do every year, fine-tooth-combing a new budget.
Last week we had the first selectman go on record with the public as he looks ahead to upcoming budget preparation season: “There will be an increase” in expenses, he said, and “It is just a matter of who’s going to pay” the increase.
This week we have the Town Council chairman letting you know that “many tax bills will rise between 10% and 20%.” [See Chairman’s View, this edition, Page 7A.] If that tax news does not get the public to speak out, we are not sure that any tax news will.
The expectation is that New Canaan properties that have remained flat in value or increased in value will be hit with the tax increases. Properties that have significantly decreased in value may avoid a tax increase. This is because tax rates are multiplied by property value to determine the taxes due. These expectations are based also on the assumption that the Town will not reduce its spending, and therefore it needs to raise through taxation at least as much as it raised to cover the current year’s expenses.
The leaders get credit for being out early in their attempt to get the public’s attention with the tax forecast. If they do not get a reaction from the public, they might well assume that there is no strong feeling among taxpayers.
If you wish for your views to he heard, this is a good time to speak up or write emails to the Board of Education, Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance and Town Council. There are easy email connections on newcanaan.info under Government, then Boards, Councils and Elected Officials.
It is a good time to speak up because the Board of Finance is now starting to prepare their Budget Guidance memorandum, which will advise all departments, including the Board of Education, on what sort of budget increase the Town officials might be able to pass.
Be aware: this upcoming budget season, which will run from December to the end of March, is the last budget season before Board of Education, Board of Selectmen and Town Council members are up for election in November 2019. Those officials who may seek re-election a year from now should be all ears.
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