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Mayor David Gronbach: Town should sell surplus property to fix revenue gap

March 23, 2017 GMT

On Monday night, the New Milford Town Council passed a revenue adjustment in the budget. When we previously deliberated, our Comptroller prepared a mill rate calculation that double counted $1.55 million in revenue. He made a mistake and he caught it before it got any further in the process. In order to keep the 1.8 percent mill rate increase, we presented additional revenue estimates from the sale of surplus property and Sewer Commission revenue that would make up for the $1.55 million. It maintains the spending and mill rate that was previously approved.

Over the past year, we have identified numerous town-owned properties that are not producing tax revenue and are a drain on development. The most prominent is what’s known as the Still Meadow property, almost 20 acres on Fort Hill and Peagler Hill Road. The town purchased the property in 1998 for $2.1 million. The purchase was funded by bonds, which the town paid over the years. In 2014, the property was appraised at $2.5 million. How has the town raised taxes all of these years when we are sitting on a $2.5 million asset, which we are not doing anything with? My Republican counterparts keep proposing to sell Pettibone when we have vacant land that nobody has taken responsibility for.

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There are also various town-owned building lots spread around town that we are doing nothing with. For example, 25 Church St. is a town-owned building that we have underutilized.

My Republican counterparts have chastised me for not funding Public Work’s 19 percent requested operating increase and 360 percent increase in their capital budget. But I did increase their budget by $683,361 to continue to invest in the important functions that Public Work’s does. It appropriately balances our needs and wants.

At the Monday night meeting, Mr. Bass suggested that the Sewer Commission not be asked to pay more of its debt. When we calculated that the mill rate would go up to 2.29 percent as a result, Mr. Bass declined to make the motion, despite multiple opportunities to do so. Even during the prior deliberations, no motion, no proposal was made.

Mr. Esposito and Ms. Francis made a motion to spread the $1.55 million among all departments via a uniform percentage. It was an interesting proposal and we were prepared to vote. Before we could, they withdrew their motion. I am willing to consider proposals by my Republican counterparts. I challenged all of them if they disagree with my proposal, what is their alternative? None offered any solutions beyond, “cut spending.” They want to tell me why everything I propose won’t work, without offering any detailed solutions.

I challenge all elected officials, Democratic and Republican, to work with me to utilize all surplus assets to reduce the burden on our taxpayers. It is easier for elected politicians to simply raise taxes.

I challenge everyone to take the hard road every day, every year, to view the taxpayer as the last resort, not a bottomless piggy bank.

David Gronbach is mayor of New Milford.