Simmons Proposes 5.5% Boost to Stamford Budget


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STAMFORD – Mayor Caroline Simmons has proposed a 2024-25 city and schools budget of $685.4 million, 5.5 percent more than her budget for this fiscal year.

If, in the coming weeks, the Board of Finance and Board of Representatives don’t cut the spending plan, it will increase property taxes about 5 percent on July 1, when the next fiscal year begins.

Annual tax hikes have typically ranged between 2 percent and 3 percent, though it was higher than usual last year, too. 

Simmons’ budget last year came with an average increase of 4.3 percent. That included the effect of a state-mandated property revaluation that boosted home values so significantly that city officials phased it in over two years. 

The second phase will be included in the coming tax bill.

In presenting her budget to city representatives and members of the finance board, Simmons said one of her priorities was to keep taxes down, but it hasn’t been easy.

Raises for three unions amounted to $8.7 million, driven by settlement of the firefighters’ contract, which expired in 2017 and required that the city pay years of back wages, Simmons said.

Besides that, insurance expenses are projected to increase 3.8 percent, fueled by a nationwide spike in property insurance premiums, Simmons said. The budget includes an increase in support to agencies serving the homeless, a growing population in Stamford, she said.

“This has been a very challenging budget year … a unique year with payments to the fire contract settlement (where) we’re seeing the cumulative effect of wage increases over five years,” Simmons said. “There are fixed cost increases, such as property insurance, that are out of our control.”

Her administration “did our absolute best job to get [the budget] down to what is critical,” Simmons said, and she and schools Superintendent Tamu Lucero are advocating for more state funding.

“We’re continuing to grow the Grand List (all taxable property in the city) and build more housing and add to the tax rolls to minimize the burden on taxpayers,” Simmons said.

She said she is recommending that the car tax remain flat, and that the mill rate – the formula used to calculate property tax – be dropped from 25.26 mills to 24.14 mills, which she said would be one of the lowest among Connecticut’s large cities. 

The car tax and mill rate changes, however, are up to the Board of Finance.

Simmons reported positive things on the revenue front. 

City department revenues are projected to increase by $4.4 million because of fees charged for building permits, and an increase in fees charged to dispose of bulk waste, Simmons said.

The city is expecting a $1.8 million increase in state grants and reimbursements, she said. 

City coffers will increase $2 million because of higher interest rates on investments, leases and other revenue sources, she said.

And taxes from the sale of cannabis are projected to increase to $1.8 million, Simmons said.

Stamford’s Grand List is the second-biggest in Connecticut, after Greenwich, Simmons said. In 2023 it was 27.1 billion, up $2.4 billion from the previous year. About 83 percent of the growth came from all the new apartments being built, Simmons said. 

Her spending plan is roughly split between the city, $341.7 million, and the Board of Education, $333.7 million plus another $4.9 million in city support.

After Simmons’ budget presentation, Board of Finance Chair Richard Freedman opened the floor for questions.

Board of Finance member Dennis Mahoney immediately focused on taxes.

The requested city and school budget increases – 6 percent to 7 percent – are “untenable to the citizens,” Mahoney told the mayor.

“We can control things on the spending side,” Mahoney said. “My focus is on spending restraint.”

School administrators “found about $10 million in potential places to save,” Mahoney said. “It’s a good idea for the Board of Education to come to us and say, ‘If we have to live with a reasonable budget increase, then this is the best place to cut.’ They are the best people to know that.” 

He asked Simmons whether she’d requested the same from city administrators.

Simmons said she sent department heads a letter asking them to keep their budgets flat, and her administration reduced their requests by $5 million.

“We’re happy to continue to work with you all to find ways to identify cost savings,” she told Mahoney.

Freedman said growth in the Grand List, an increase in building permit revenue, government grants, changes in reserve accounts and other factors will offset expenditures. Beyond that, the second phase of the revaluation will be less painful, Freedman said.

“The phase-in is lower this year,” Freedman said. “On average it is a .8 percent hike on homeowners and a 3 percent drop on condo owners.” Still, he said, “the average homeowner now is looking at a 5 percent tax increase.”

Simmons also proposed a $66 million capital budget. It includes 35 percent for school projects; nearly 18 percent for road resurfacing; 10 percent for parks; and 8 percent for public safety.

She told elected officials that the commercial vacancy rate in the city’s central business district last year fell from 34 percent to 28 percent, mostly because office and other commercial space was converted to residential. Outside the central district, the commercial vacancy rate was 36 percent.

The city’s unemployment rate as of December was 3.9 percent, higher than the statewide average of 3.8 percent, and higher than the national average of 3.7 percent, Simmons said.

Angela Carella

For 36 years prior to joining the Connecticut Examiner, Angela Carella was a beat reporter, investigative reporter, editor and columnist for the Stamford Advocate. Carella reports on Stamford and Fairfield County. T: 203 722 6811.