To the Editor:
My new home of Brookfield has on its ballot this November a question concerning the adoption of a Town Manager into the governance system. Reflection and some research have convinced me that this is not merely the right thing for a town to do for its residents, it is imperative for any town like Brookfield that hopes to meet the reality of expenses with something other than raising residential property tax rates year after year.
That is, if you want to raise revenue, you need to meaningfully increase the sources for it. Raising the rate on the residential base over and over again has an inevitable deleterious effect on its very purpose.
To attract commercial participants to a municipality, the town needs to offer value. Value, in the eyes of an enterprise owner, is a simple proposition of access to revenue minus the cost of that access. Businesses don’t contemplate moving from town to town every year to shop for the lowest tax rate and best access to highways and skilled employees. Rather, they find a place they like that appears to be committed to those qualities that make it attractive.
No municipal chief elected official can be counted on to be around for more than two years in Connecticut, except for the 18 towns whose leaders are elected for four-year terms. This results in a fiscal climate that can change, often dramatically, with the prevailing political tide. Volatility like this is a real, demonstrable cost to a business owner, one whose dimensions calculate to be exceptionally high.
I have examined how Town Manager-run towns have fared with increasing their equalized net grand lists (ENGL) over the last five years and compared that to the average of similarly sized towns in the state using data from the State Office of Policy and Management, which collects data on every town. It turns out that, from 2006 through 2010, the state average ENGL went down an average of about 1.6 percent per year, leaving the towns budgets balanced on the backs of fewer and fewer taxpayers. However, the performance of the 16 Town Manager managed towns whose populations are similar to those of Brookfield (out of 28 total Town Manager managed towns) reveals that the ENGL values went up an average of about 1.4 percent per year. To be sure, the Town Manager towns took on more debt that other towns, on average, in the state, but they were able to raise debt and make investments in their schools, roads, bridges and other things that make it wonderful to live in a Connecticut town because they had a reliable and growing tax base that would support it. Government is not like a business – infrastructure needs to be planned and funded often years before it is deployed – but everyone needs the government to have business sense.
I have been proud to call Connecticut home since 1971 and have missed it whenever I was away for school or work. I know many towns are not based on an agricultural economy anymore. Nor are they economically isolated. Having a professional Town Manager, who can provide, consistency, predictability and value to the tax base is essential for Brookfield. I commend the voters of Brookfield to vote ‘Yes’ on question 1.
Dan M. Smolnik