Westport finance board lowers mill rate

The Board of Finance was presented the town and schools budget at a meeting on Wednesday.

The Board of Finance was presented the town and schools budget at a meeting on Wednesday.

DJ Simmons /Hearst Connecticut Media

WESTPORT — After years of keeping the mill rate flat, the town Board of Finance unanimously voted to decrease it from 16.86 to 16.71.

“We are well reserved, and it’s not just the general reserves — we have reserves all over the place that protects the town from disaster.” Board of Finance Chairman Brian Stern said at a meeting Wednesday.

The town had a target of between 9 and 11 percent of what could be drawn from its reserves — $26 million in the General Fund — to keep taxes down.

Stern said he was concerned about the state’s financial situation because revenue shortfalls could lead to a redistribution of educational cost sharing.

“The state is the wildcard, but I think we’re so well reserved in the short term,” Stern said. “To the extent that it does come as a large number, we will have to consider tax policy next year.”

BOF member Lee Caney said lowering the mill rate could attract families looking to leave New York after the pandemic.

“At least (it) shows that we’re in good financial conditions and, in fact, during this period we cut the mill rate, even if it’s not a substantial savings for most of our residents. I think it’s good optically,” Caney said.

First Selectman Jim Marpe cautioned the BOF of lowering the mill rate because of economic uncertainties. Marpe said the state unemployment rate was at 12 percent, up from 3 percent three months ago.

He said while the town is fortunate that many Westporters have jobs that appear to have been relatively unaffected from the pandemic, there may be a recessionary impact.

“My thought is that a year from now we’ll know a lot more,” Marpe said. “By and large, the residents and taxpayers of Westport will be the same people.”

He said the town could lower the tax rate if the pandemic’s impact wasn’t as severe at that time.

“We could give it back then,” he said. “I think the bulk of the people, with them being essentially the same people, would benefit from that. We’ll have a much better idea of our grand list a year from now as well.”

Marpe said he was comfortable with a flat tax rate but would support the BOF if they lower it.

“I just think it’s nice to have a little extra not knowing what lies ahead,” he said.