Letter: ‘Thank You’ to the Town Council for Budget Vote 

To those on the Town Council who voted not for the presence or absence of later starts—that decision is made entirely by the BOE, and roughly $1 billion of taxpayer money over 10 years is more than enough to do later starts for all kids if it is a priority—but for some semblance of fiscal restraint, thank you. You did what you thought was right for the greater good, knowing the economic environment we are in, and especially its impact on working families stretching to live in New Canaan and seniors living on fixed incomes. The affordability of New Canaan has inevitably gone way down, as our house prices have imploded, incomes are down, joblessness is up, and our tax burden moves inexorably higher in almost all years. Obviously there will be supporters and detractors of your decision. Inevitably the voices of the detractors will be louder. If the detractors are using objective data to reinforce their viewpoints, it is fair game. If the detractors have never looked at our budgets or compared them to other towns—the vast majority likely have not—there is less credibility in their views. The Connecticut unemployment figures are out and it is a sobering picture: since the virus outbreak, roughly 13% of Connecticut’s workforce is newly unemployed, with the number obviously headed higher for now. The direct and knock-on effects on New Canaan have been and will be wide-ranging, even if there is a shorter than expected resolution to the outbreak. Whether it be potential further state tax increases from Connecticut pension shortfalls (they assume a return of roughly 7% on their investments), lower revenue projections locally from shut or limited business activity and income declines on a massive scale, disruptions in the extension of credit, a rise in under-water mortgages and greater home foreclosures in the future or countless other impacts, we are just beginning to understand the enormity of the consequences now.

Op-Ed: Tax Reality Check

If current real estate trends hold, the property tax rate in New Canaan is set to grow by at least 10% in the next real estate revaluation. Think of real estate values and property tax rates as being two ends of a see-saw. If the real estate values that make up New Canaan’s Grand List – our near completely dependent source of spending on schools, parks, infrastructure, etc., through property taxation – decline, our property tax rate (mill rate) will need to offset this decline by an equivalent amount even if our budget (spending) is flat. 

Unfortunately, there is a reckoning in the form of our real estate values/Grand List. An analysis of all property transfers from the beginning of April, 2019 to December, 2019, listed in the NewCanaanite (a representative sample of 239 transactions) shows our Grand List down 10% currently versus the 2018 revaluation (after a 7% decrease in that reval), all else being equal. Keeping the see-saw visual in mind, if we had another revaluation this year our property tax rates would likely increase by ~10% even with a flat town budget (spending).

Letter: First Selectman Candidate Craig Donovan Has ‘Balanced View of New Canaan’

I turn on the TV or read an article and if it is something related to Washington, D.C. I quickly become disgusted. Hyper partisanship and everything that ensues from it is a destructive force, whether it is in Washington or the halls of the capital in Hartford. In this increasingly divisive environment, I hope that most will still consider the individual and not just the party affiliation. 

It is in this context that I support Craig Donovan. Craig has a balanced view of New Canaan. He recognizes there are many things great about our town—the charming downtown and open spaces, the parents who are highly invested in their kids’ education and a core group of generally excellent teachers and administrators, the friendliness of most people, among other factors—and there a number of things that need to be improved.  Namely, transportation, budget transparency, strategic planning, and fiscal spending.

Op-Ed: Rocketing Tax Rates, Declining Property Values

I needed an attention grabber for a title, but this piece focuses on the implications of publicly available data and is not intended to be provocative. It is a summary of how your tax dollars are being spent locally and what needs to be done to change it if we are going to start being fiscally responsible and have the best shot at maintaining, or I dare say, growing property values over time. Although the topic may seem boring, bear with me, because the numbers are enthralling…unfortunately in a bad way currently. First, a caveat in anticipation of some nasty and/or ignorant responses that will likely come my way for discussing the fiscal reality behind the veneer: we have excellent schools, a beautiful town and everyone I know, including myself, wants to keep it that way. I have gone to Hartford to give public testimony multiple times this year to fight against forced school regionalization as well as statewide car and property taxes that will exacerbate negative trends facing all residents. Second, my experience with every town representative I have talked to is that they are well intended people. They are representing us on a voluntary basis and have spent many hours in town meetings, along with work outside of meetings.