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Someone Really Wants You to Know Your Taxes “Could Go Up 7 Percent”

Posted by whforums on January 7, 2009

The question of “why is this news” was probably lost when your eyes bulged out of your head.

From an article in The Courant today:

If no programs or personnel are cut and state aid doesn’t increase, residents will likely be facing a tax hike of about 7 percent in fiscal year 2009-10.

The town council and school board will host a community summit Jan. 28 to begin identifying which services to preserve and which to cut, and to spell out what local officials can and cannot do with respect to union contracts, property revaluation and other issues.

“We think that 7 percent is unacceptable, but it’s going to take significant program cuts to lower it,” Mayor Scott Slifka said Tuesday. “The changes could be dramatic, and the community needs to be part of that discussion.” …

Hoping for a large turnout, officials are seeking participation from business owners, parents, union members, the Exchange and Rotary clubs and other fraternal groups, the West Hartford Taxpayers Association, which has opposed the last several budgets, and West Hartford FIRST, which has supported those budgets, particularly in the area of education funding.

The whole thing catches me a little bit short — the announcement of such a startling “possible” tax increase could simply be an effort to increase turnout at the January 28th meeting (to really listen to the community and to seek help from the community — a “people, help your government with this problem” moment). In that case, it’s a beautiful example of democracy. In an election year, however, a 7% tax increase seems unlikely (and we already know where some budget cuts can be made — like leaf collection). This makes the cynical voice in my head say “How do you get people to swallow a 3.5% tax increase? You tell ’em you’re going to increase their taxes 7% first.” Or maybe, since no one likes cutting programs and personnel, this is a wake up call to that necessity, or, at best, a way to make that necessity more palatable (or politically safe). Or maybe it’s just a way to ratchet pressure on the state — one of the above “ifs” is “if state aid does not increase.” This seems equally likely considering there is likely going to be state aid coming from Washington soon (though I’m not sure it will be here soon enough for the start of the West Hartford budget making season).

The WHTA is encouraging the Council to reject the new teacher contract (which ensures raises, above and beyond step increases, of 1 and 1.25 percent — which, as I figured in some post somewhere else, is about the cost of a year of leaf collection). The Council seems unlikely to do so. Asking the union to accept a pay freeze or a step freeze for academic year 09-10 doesn’t seem unacceptable to me, but there would have to be a a significant payoff (in pay or step increase) down the road. And it would be unfair to ask teachers to take a pay freeze if other town employees don’t take the same pay freeze (granted, with union contracts, such equal “treatment” of all employees is likely impossible).

So. Yeah. Your taxes “could” go up 7 percent. What’s the strategy behind news like that?

Posted in Budget, budget cuts, Crap Economy, Local Democracy, Sorry I'm So Cynical, Taxes, West Hartford | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

West Hartford Credit Union Goes Belly Up — The Hartford Just Goes Up

Posted by whforums on December 7, 2008

I know, I know.  Your first thought was probably the same as mine — West Hartford had a credit union?  And it was called the West Hartford Credit Union?

Obvioulsy, none of us likes to see a local business fail, but what really stand out to me about this story (as reported in the Courant version, anyway) is the relative obscurity of the business itself.  When Lane and Lenge left The Center, and when Simmer shuttered, well, those were quasi-big deals to me — local businesses that were looking to protect their profit margins by leaving high rents behind (well, I thought that was the deal with Simmer).  But in this case, I’m really struck by the anonymity of this apparently veteran small business — the credit union was 58 years old, had somewhere between 2 and 4 million dollars in assets (depending on the version of the story you read)  and somewhere between 1,200 and 1,400 customers.  If we ridiculously assume that all of those customers were residents, we’re talking about roughly 2% of the population of the town (granted, that market share is a lot bigger than the market share of this blog — but then, I’m not trying to make a profit, either). It’s not that I’m saying that market share was uber-small — I guess I’m saying, in a market like West Hartford, and even with a name like West Hartford (on your bank, no less), I’m really taken aback that I never even knew the institution existed.

In some ways, I guess I also feel a twisted guilt.  I bank with several mammoth institutions, each of which is essentially devoid of local roots (not that my accounts would have made a difference for “our” credit union, and not that “our” credit union would have done me much good while traveling, either).  But there’s another weird fact in this whole situation that gives me pause.  The West Hartford Credit Union?  Yeah.  Its offices were in Farmington.

As the “WHCU” was going under, shares of the The Hartford went through “the roof” (though the roof has been lowered by, oh, about 90%, recently).  This is good for many in my family (and for many in yours, I’m sure — The Hartford is a mammoth employer for residents of West Hartford), but it serves as a stark reminder of the fog we’re in — a fog in which a bank I’ve never heard of seems to have as tenuous a grasp on existence as a mega-major company upon which our entire region depends.

Posted in Crap Economy, Hartford, West Hartford | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »