Town officials are expecting to receive more than $5 million in additional state funding in the coming fiscal year.
This comes despite the fact that Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposed state budget would cut nearly $570 million in state spending.
The town council called on Mansfield’s state legislative delegation – Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, Rep. Greg Haddad, D-Mansfield, and Rep. Linda Orange, D-Colchester – to answer questions about adjustments to the state’s payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) formula and expected overall state funding during Tuesday night’s town council meeting.
The total amount Mansfield receives in state funding through all statutory grants, including PILOT, is projected to increase from $39.5 million last year to $44.7 million in the coming fiscal year, according to Haddad.
“That is something we’re very happy to accomplish, because it makes a real difference in the overall numbers for Mansfield,” Haddad said.
Haddad said Mansfield’s increase will come as the overall PILOT budget could be slashed by as much as $16 million in the current legislative session.
Changes to the formula that increased funding were enacted during the last legislative session in Senate Bill No. 1, which Flexer believed would not be changed in the next two years – when funding increases are projected.
“I think there’s nothing (Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney) would fight more fiercely for than maintaining the provisions of Senate Bill 1,” Flexer said. “I would have good confidence (the funding) will be there this year and next year.”
Town Manager Matt Hart said the town currently has a PILOT program reimbursement rate percentage “in the low 20s.” That would increase to 26 percent in the 2017 fiscal year, Hart said, accounting for much of the state funding increase in the coming fiscal year.
Under the new provisions enacted last year, PILOT program funding would be distributed in three tiers beginning in the 2018 fiscal year. Mansfield would likely be in the top tier with a reimbursement rate of 32 percent, according to Hart.
Republican council member Virginia Raymond said she believed the town should primarily use the extra funding to relieve taxes on town residents instead of spending it on projects. Democratic council members Toni Moran and Ben Shaiken reminded Raymond that reducing taxes too drastically would reduce the amount of funding in future years, possibly eliminating the funding altogether.
“We have to strike a careful balance,” Mayor Paul Shapiro said. “We can’t lower our mill rate too much. We can’t spend too much, either. We also have to be careful not to put new money into our operating budget.”
University student voting rights affirmed
Town Attorney Kevin Deneen told council members that all University of Connecticut students who choose to designate Mansfield as their residence are eligible to vote in all town elections, including referendums on budgetary matters.
“Individuals intending to make this their residence – and under the Connecticut statutes this is where they dwell – they have the right to register to vote,” Deneen said. “If they have registered and enrolled as an elector, they have the right to participate in any vote in town, whether it’s a budget referendum or it’s a town election, a state election, federal election.”
Council members asked Deneen to look into the issue after a number of public comments from town residents expressed concern about whether it is legal for individuals who do not pay property taxes to vote on budgetary matters.
Shapiro said much of the concern comes from students who live in university residence halls, as UConn does not pay property taxes. He said town residents are not concerned about the residency question for those who live in off-campus apartments or homes.
Deneen said courts would not find a distinction between an apartment renter or a dormitory resident. Both are eligible to vote in all town elections, regardless of the duration they have lived in Mansfield.
Ravine Road nearly resolved
After nearly one year of deliberation, the town is closing in on a Ravine Road compromise.
Members of the town council held a special meeting last week on Ravine Road, where they walked the road’s disputed dirt portion and spoke with residents. Shapiro said the town council may be able to vote on the issue in two weeks.
“There is not a formal resolution,” Shapiro said. “The devil is in the details. We don’t know if it’s going to happen, but we’ve had some terrific discussion. … We need to make sure that every stakeholder is OK with it. The thing about a compromise is nobody usually loves it.”
The road, which has been closed since March 2015, connects state Route 32 with Bone Mill Road – one of the main avenues onto the UConn campus, especially for those who live in off-campus apartments.