[OPINIONS] State Budget Woes Will Strike Westport Hard

Hartford often seems to be a lot more than 60 miles from Westport. This part of the state is New York-centric. We sometimes think our state capital is Albany.

But decisions made in Connecticut’s capital can have quite an impact on our lives here. With the state budget in free fall, that’s seldom been more true.

Alert “06880” writer Peter Flatow writes:

When people talk about the advantages of living in 06880, our schools and educational programs almost always top the list. Many people move to 06880 for the schools.  We did!

Among the many subjects Westport students study: robotics.

Among the many subjects Westport students study: robotics.

Having great schools requires adequate funding. In the past, both the state and federal (to a much less degree) governments have assisted in funding our school system, through grants and subsidies.

That appears to be changing — and not for the better. Reviewing the educational budget, Westport has over the last 5 years been doing more with less.

Now, with the state looking to eliminate over $1.5 million in grants to Westport, the situation will get tougher.

And while the federal government accounts for roughly 4% of Connecticut’s revenues for schools (8% nationally), who knows what pressures the new administration will put on the State and local school systems.

What does this mean for Westport? Is our biggest asset under attack? If so, what can or should we be doing now? Will local taxpayers just make up the difference?  Will programs be cut? If so, which ones? Will school athletics programs be eliminated? After school activities? Is there a silver lining? If towns don’t get state or federal funding, does that allow them to set their own education rules?

Conventional wisdom suggests that it is best to be proactive. We have an excellent Board of Education. It will be instructive to learn how they view these forces against our top town asset.

Peter Flatow worries about the state budget crisis impact on Westport's schools. Greens Farms Elementary is shown above.

Peter Flatow worries about the state budget crisis impact on Westport’s schools. Greens Farms Elementary is shown above.

Equally alert “06880” reader Bart Shuldman worries about the cost in taxes — particularly to seniors. He writes:

Residents face the serious potential of higher property taxes, or cuts in service and funds to education, as Governor Malloy transfers some costs normally paid by the state down to Westport.

At the same time funds are cut, Governor Malloy is requiring Westport taxpayers to fund 1/3 of the teacher’s pension that was already paid by us, through state income tax dollars. State income taxes will most likely increase, as the governor tries to balance a $3 billion deficit over th next 2 years.

Shuldman’s figures show the loss of $465,334 in state education cost-sharing grants from the state; a loss of $646,975 to cover costs of educating severely disabled students, and a cost to Westport of $5,877,870 in 1/3 pension sharing for the fiscal year beginning July 1. He warns:

If you live elsewhere in Connecticut, a similar negative financial impact will happen to your town.

20 responses to “[OPINIONS] State Budget Woes Will Strike Westport Hard

  1. OMG maybe they will have to put a post-8pm toll booth on Campo Beach..That should raise some money

  2. Are people for real? In a wealthy town of some 26,000 citizens, $1.5 million is only about 50 per head. Why are people whining? Should our neighbors in Norwalk or Bridgeport pick up the difference? Does the sense of entitlement run so deeply that we can feel aggrieved about this when children in Bridgeport don’t have even the most meager of school supplies while children in Westport have had to make do with less??? Where is the sense of decency, of kindness of being a good citizen?

    • The people of Bridgeport have created, for the most part, the conditions under which they live. I lived in Westport for over 37 years.It I was hard not to notice that in election after election the people of Bridgeport chose leadership that brought about the decline in Bridgeport’s economic condition. In the last mayoral election, the people of Bridgeport chose a convicted criminal to lead them. If the people of Bridgeport wanted to improve their lot, they would chose more effective leaders, however they have not. The people of Bridgeport have revealed their preference, they want the leaders who have brought about the conditions that exist in Bridgeport.

      In the years I lived in Westport , the town was generally well manged by people who gave of their time and energy for the betterment of the community. Westport is not without its problems, and people love to debate them on this blog and elsewhere, but they have been problems on the margin. Now, the town’s welfare is being threatened by the general mismanagement of the state’s finances. This mismanagement has been of long duration. There is little the town can do to prevent people and businesses from leaving the state. As the state’s financial conditions deteriorate, Westport and towns like it will become an ATM for the gang in Hartford that appears to be unwilling to come to grips with the financial distress they have created.

    • Ed. This is not about Bridgeport. This is about the State of CT and the ever continuing financial death spiral set upon the residents in Westport and the rest of CT. Right now the legislators will be in session and setting the next budget-which is forecasted at $3 BILLION DEFICIT. After 2 massive state income tax increases, the CT budget is once again in crisis.

      All Westportntax payers will be facing many tax increases as the Governor refuses to ‘fix’ the problem-the very lucrative state employee befits. So instead of trying to end the financial death spiral, he and the democratic leaders will propose MANY tax increases. One that I highlighted is the demand that Westport pay 1/3 of the Teachers pension plan costs that normally are paid by our state income taxes. The impact to westport will be education cist increases over $6 million. Add to that the increase the Board of Education in Westport is requesting, expect property taxes to increase by 5% or more.

      But that is just the beginning of the massive tax increases that are coming. Everyone in a westport should expect higher state income taxes and higher sales tax. In addition, Governor Malloy is proposing that hospitals lose their property tax exemption-so expect hospital costs to rise.

      GE left as they said they did not trust the leadership in CT to solve the ongoing fiscal crisis. Many wealthy people are also leaving, dropping the amount of income taxes collected by CT. With lower tax receipts and ongoing increasss in state employee costs, taxes will be raised for years. As taxes are increased more businesses and people leave.

      And the Financial Death Spiral in CT continues.

  3. If “many wealthy people are leaving,” then who are buying all these multi-million dollar McMansions? Just askin’.

    • David J. Loffredo

      Clearly you don’t have one on the market or you’d know the answer is that they’re not. New Canaan has a 20 year inventory of homes over $3M. Luxury Properties in lower Fairfield County have cratered. Pick some houses on the market, go onto Zillow, and see how their prices have fallen.

      CT is in a world of hurt, the taxes are stifling, the commute into NYC keeps getting longer, even Bridgewater had it’s first ever layoffs – things have not improved post 2008.

      • Tell that to the builders who keep tearing down smaller houses and constructing these monstrosities. I haven’t noticed any slowdown in the Teardowns of the Day. Maybe right now, because it’s winter, but come Spring, they’ll continue unabated.

        • Bobby-you just don’t get it and would rather post the nonsense about large homes.

          You should be thankful our Grand List is rising (unless you don’t own property in Westport) as that is helping to absorb the town budget increases. But now Westport is facing the loss of state education funds and the threat is paying for the Teachers pension plan. Property taxes will go up and if you own a home you will experience the increase.

          Everyone in CT will face approximately 20% increase in taxes they pay-whether thru increase in sales tax, property taxes or income taxes. CT collects about $7 BILLION in tax revenue and to make up the $1.4 Billion deficit starting July 1st, I am sure you can do the math to get to my 20%!!

    • Connecticut ranks 47th in population growth.

    • Bobby-3 billionaires moved out of CT. Westport is
      Not the only town in CT. The loss of their state income tax is huge–it will take thousands and thousands of new jobs to be created just to make up the shortfall of losing those 3 CT residents.

      With more people leaving CT than moving in, state had 8,301 people leave CT in 2016, state income tax receipts continue to decline. You will help make up the shortfall by paying higher taxes. That is a fact.

      CT will continue to experience more highly compensated people leaving CT as GE gets rest to
      Open their new office in Boston. Add to that Thomson Reuters leaving, Rogers Corporation and the possibility that Aetna leaves as you will continue to face higher and higher taxes. I believe it will
      be very difficult for CT to attract new businesses to move in as long as the fiscal crisis continues.

      State employee pension plans are the most underfunded in the US. CT is now #50. The costs to CT taxpayers, Westport tax payers will
      Continue to rise as the Governor and the democratic leadership (and Rep Steinberg) continue to avoid the problem. Just the other day Rep Steinberg voted to increase the costs of the state employee pension plan on CT residents by $11 Billion. That’s right- with a B

      If all this starts to help lower property values in Westport then everyone in Westport will experience higher and higher property taxes. This will help to lower our home values and the financial death spiral in CT will continue and continue in Westport.

      The worse is yet to come. You will see.

  4. I could not agree with Mr Shuldman’s comments more.. Someone, quite some time ago said people get the government they deserve. Bridgeport chose an ex-con and the good people of Connecticut chose Dan Malloy, whom the Wall Street Journal called the worst governor in the country, not once but twice! It’s surprising how many people are for income redistribution as long as its not their income.

  5. I don’t like to make the bad news worse, but there are proposals in Washington right now to eliminate the Federal ItemizedDeduction for property taxes. If that happens, it would be like a 35% increase in property taxes for anyone who itemizes deductions on their 1040.

  6. we are entering unchartered territory in westport, in connecticut, and in the united states. most govts, especially ct’s have no money and have let bad decisions create more bad decisions. so many businesses have left ct and more will follow. Fairfield County has more homes on the market and the lingest lust of inventory in decades. there are big homes that sold at 4+mm now for under 3mm, down 30+%. location is everything. we have a rail system of a third world nation. 50 miles to nyc is often times one hour and 15 minutes. NYc in finance, jobs have been slashed or comp reduced to a fraction of what it is. While not crying wolf for the sector, it is merely a statement on new wealthy 30-40 year olds not being created and not doing the commute to fairfield countys last couple stops like westport wilton weston. It is always brutal to see education cuts for bith advantaged and disadvantaged kids alike, but everybody needs a wake up call that most governments are broke. If we want superior products and services in our backyards then we better know we will be paying for them.

  7. The same folks who bitch and moan about reduction in state contributions to local governments are the same ones who scream about “large government” butting into private lives.
    If Westport’s wealth can’t, on it’s own, afford the best education, police, fire and infrastructure, then no American town can.
    Oh, yeah, and if, as Mr. Coley warns, the current hellions in D.C. do cut the property tax deduction, I guess it will be Obama’s fault.

    • Westport can afford all the services you mentioned. The question is can it afford all of those services while shouldering the burden created by decades of mismanagement in Hartford.

      I doubt the property tax deduction will be eliminated, but it might be limited much as the mortgage interest rate deduction was limited. However,, the major threat to Westport’s financial well being originates in Hartford, not DC.

    • Dan-I am always anamxed andnthe generalized statement of the ‘wealthy’ Westporters. Personally I do not think of every in a westport that way and am very concerned what happens as state income taxes increase, state sales taxes increase and then Westport property taxes.

      What happens to our seniors in town? Are they all the so called ‘wealthy’? What about that 2 income families that moved to Westport for the education and will now find living here much more expensive?

      CT’s issues and the fiscal crisis is well known, what is sad, troubling and maddening, is that 55,000 state workers are destroying CT for their own benefit. What is maddening is the inability of people in Hartford, and let’s be honest Rep John’s steinberg cotes for 2 massive tax increases and just voted to increase state employee pension costs by $11 BILLION, to FIX the problem.

  8. Having lived in Westport for most of my life, prior to moving to Bridgeport, I can say that we, my wife and I, never complained about taxes paid for living in Westport. We got among the best public schools for our kids, great public facilities, a pretty town, with all the benefits of living near the Sound. But when we sold our home and moved to Bridgeport, we knew we were moving to a city plagued by budgetary challenges and relatively high taxes. We accepted this, knowing that the purchase price of our Black Rock home was very considerably lower than a similar home in Westport. Sure, our property lot is far smaller (thanks be), but our neighborhood is much more community-friendly. We have no kids in schools anymore, so that was never a consideration for us. Yes, taxes are high, and we’ve just absorbed one of the highest mill rate increases ever recorded in the city. Yet, to compensate for a generation or two of inept city management of resources, this is the price we signed on to pay. The previous Mayor, Bill Finch’s administration, moved Bridgeport to a far more effective management of resources. The Economic Development office, under the direction of David Kooris, had set the stage for Bridgeport to rise far more from the ashes of previous neglect. So, we pay our taxes here and consider it an investment in the future of Bridgeport’s population, and an investment in removing Bridgeport from the State’s “liability” column, to a future “asset” column. This will happen. It’s a matter of time now, and enlightened investment in the infrastructure of Bridgeport.
    But Westport is now faced with a stark reality. Westporters will have to pay far more to keep what Wesporters have come to expect from their community – and, one may argue – rightfully so. Teacher pensions are derived in some measure from the recruitment process and opportunities that prospective teachers shall receive in staffing one of the wealthiest and highest achieving school districts in the USA. You pay the top price, offer the top benefits in order to attract the best of the best. This is no different than the realities of a competitive system of employee recruitment in corporate America. You get what you pay for.
    This is not to say that Bridgeport teachers are lacking in ability. No. They have signed on to a far more difficult challenge, teaching students in a community fraught with high unemployment amongst mostly minority populations, wracked with gang-related conflicts in some neighborhoods, born of poverty and ingrained isolation from the mainstream of business-America.
    So, where am I going with this?
    When the Federal government talks about tax cuts, BEWARE. State and City taxes will have to increase just to keep the services in place that we citizens have come to expect.,
    If you elect a budget cutting Governor to replace Malloy, what services will you let go? How will you retain businesses in Connecticut when other states are hustling for Connecticut businesses through all sorts of tax benefits. I agree that we have been in decline for years, but I don’t blame Governor Malloy. I think the creeping reality has sounded warnings over many years but the claxon horn sound has become impossible to ignore.
    Malloy is doing what he has to do. He is sharing the costs for services and pension funds, for the extras the state has paid over the years of padded budgets, squarely on the shoulders of those communities that have the most and pay the least in relative terms for their highest quality schools and teacher populations. That’s the way it is. And if we all migrate elsewhere from Connecticut, what will that do for those who remain? We will remain here, paying our taxes for a few years to come. We hope that Connecticut will be able to lower state taxes, estate taxes and some of the other burdens we citizens face. Then, who knows? But for now, we choose to “invest” in the future of our City and our State.
    Governor Malloy has correctly concluded that transportation infrastructure in of the highest priority in keeping Connecticut as a wealth-generating economic engine. The rail system, the interstate system, our inter-town and in-town transport needs are paramount in keeping Fairfield County and upper regions viable as commuter-friendly locations. This will be a huge expense, as you already know. But it is an investment in our future and one we must make if Connecticut is to fight its way back to the forefront of business-friendly, job-creating and preserving status.

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