Less than 24 hours after nominating a slate of candidates for this year’s municipal election, the Derby Republicans went on the attack Thursday in form of a 429-word letter from town committee chairman Sam Pollastro.
In the letter Pollastro points to a “whopping” 10 percent increase to the Derby the tax rate in 2016, saying high taxes in the city are a real impediment to business development.
“Even now, Mayor Dugatto is again delaying downtown construction as Derby’s tax rate – a real impediment to business development – continues to rise, and the commercial grand list plunges,” Pollastro wrote. “Did you know that Derby’s tax hike in 2016 was one of the highest in Connecticut? A whopping 10.2 percent increase!”
The delay is a reference to Derby City Hall’s request to the state to modify the design of the long-planned Route 34 (Main Street) widening project.
The 10 percent tax hike has quickly become the first GOP talking point.
The 10 percent tax increase was mentioned by GOP candidate Rich Dziekan during a speech he made July 19 accepting the Republican Party’s mayoral endorsement.
And it even made its way into a Facebook post from the Ansonia GOP earlier last week.
But . . .
The decision to raise taxes last year was supported — albeit begrudgingly — by Democrats and Republicans on the Derby tax board.
The Republicans hold a 6-4 majority on the Derby tax board. The tax board is the only political entity in the city that reviews the budget, allocates money, and votes on a mill rate.
Minutes from May and June of 2016 indicate four Democrats and five Republicans voted to set the mill rate at 39.37 — an increase of 3.6 mills, or 10 percent, over the previous year.
Phyllis Sochrin, a Republican member of the tax board, abstained from the mill rate vote.
The other members voted for the increased mill rate, including Pollastro — though he practically held his nose while doing so.
Pollastro said at the time he did so only to prevent Derby from blowing its budget deadline as set by the City Charter. To do otherwise would hurt the city, he said.
“I’m not happy with anything in this budget,” Pollastro said last year.
Click here to read last year’s Valley Indy story on the Derby budget adoption.
Last year’s $41 million budget raised taxes by about $300 on the average residential tax bill.
Mayor Dugatto Thursday dismissed the GOP’s claims as election-year spin. She pointed out a state mandated-revaluation happened in 2016, which can make year-to-year mill rate comparisons difficult.
But Pollastro said the Democrats simply are not doing enough to grow Derby’s grand list. The Democrats, they said, should use the energy they’re using to argue with each other to attract new businesses to Derby.
Pollastro said that leaves the tax board in an impossible position every year — trying to set a mill rate while the grand list is shrinking.
And, according to Pollastro, the Derby Board of Aldermen are forcing the tax board to spend money by doing things like purchasing properties, foreclosing on properties and hiring new City Hall employees, such as an assistant town clerk.
Pollastro also said last year’s 3.6 mill increase was an improvement over Mayor Dugatto’s suggested budget, which showed a bigger tax increase, Pollastro said.
Pollastro said Mayor Dugatto hasn’t shown leadership when it comes to the budget. He said the mayor should be setting the budget agenda each year — specifically, ordering town department heads and the Aldermen not to spend money.
Instead, that work falls to the tax board, he said.
“It’s like they’re running up the credit card and the tax board is stuck with the bill,” Pollastro said.
Dugatto said Derby is methodically setting the city up so it can prosper.
That efforts includes updating the city’s comprehensive plan of development and using state grant money to come up with a sensible, sustainable plan for the city’s long-stagnant redevelopment zone on the south side of Main Street.
The plan for the redevelopment zone, which includes rewriting zoning code in the zone, is being prepared in conjunction with DPZ Partners, a nationally known planning agency.
“We just received a $5 million grant to put a plan into place that will actually work. We finally have a solid plan, and the progress has already started because we’ve seen land downtown purchased,” Dugatto said. “Developers finally have a vision to work with.”
The mayor was referring to the former Life Touch property on Main Street, which was sold in April for $250,000.
Dugatto points to the fact unemployment has fallen in Derby — and a new brewery, BAD Sons & Co., just opened on Roosevelt Drive.
The brewery took over an under-utilized old factory.
Here’s Mayor Dugatto touting it on her campaign’s Facebook page:
Revisiting Last Year’s Budget
Spending increased by just over $2 million in the 2016 budget, according to information supplied to The Valley Indy last year by Judy Szewczyk, the chairwoman of the tax board.
Szewczyk, a Republican, submitted a guest column to The Valley Indy immediately after the tax board approved the tax increase last year.
Her information broke down the majority of the spending increase:
- $881,297 more than the previous year for medical insurance and workmen’s compensation
- $464,462 more for schools
- $220,220 which was simply adding the parking garage into the Derby budget. It had previously been a separate authority.
- $199,035 for principal and interest on city loans
- $119,793 for the police department
- $47,945 for a new assistant in the town clerk’s office
Last May, The Valley Indy interviewed Szewczyk about the budget during a 60-minute podcast.
At the time of the interview, the tax board was considering a tax rate increase of 4 mills. It was later reduced to 3.6 mills.
Szewczyk said during the interview the tax board was facing a $2 million shortfall in revenue, which she attributed to revaulation, a predicted decline in state aid and a roughly $1 million increase in contractual obligations.
Click play to listen: