Tax rate for Milford rises just 1.8%

MILFORD – A sharp drop in the state portion of the school tax rate means local taxpayers will see a tax-rate hike of less than 2 percent this year.

Mike Trojano, business manager for the Milford School District, likes what he hears.

“Would that it could be this way every year,” he said.

The 1.8 percent increase in the tax rate is the lowest in several years. It was helped by a surprising jump in the valuation, or the total worth of taxable property in town. More valuable property means fewer dollars must be raised from each property, thus helping hold down the tax rate.

The town’s total valuation went up 3 percent in a year, to almost $800 million.

“That’s phenomenal,” said Town Manager Katherine Chambers. “It’s been averaging 1 percent; we might have been expecting it to go up 1½ percent at most.”

However, the increase has a downside, since most came as a result of new housing – property that eventually costs more in services such as police protection, road maintenance and education.

“(The valuation increase) just completely and totally illustrates the concerns the Planning Board’s been having about development,” Chambers said.

The total tax rate, announced last week by the state, increases 1.8 percent to $32.39 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. As a result, a home valued at $150,000 will see its tax bill go up $86.

The big difference in the rate is the state-education tax rate, which fell more than a third, from $6.08 to $4.47.

By contrast, the local school portion of the school tax went up 9.5 percent, to $18.76.

Trojano noted that the two rates together make up local taxpayers’ contribution to education, and that they combined for an increase so small it can hardly be measured: just an extra 3 cents on the rate, a hike of about one-tenth of 1 percent.

A portion of that, he said, is due to “the small increase in the overall school budget this year over last.”

On the town side, Chambers noted that voters approved every warrant article on the ballot in March, boosting spending.

“I think it’s largely due to the factthat as careful as the selectmen were about choosing warrant articles, the voters did agree that these things were necessary,” she said.

“And obviously there’s just things that go up, like health insurance – which, as everybody in the country knows, is a continuing double-digit increase,” Chambers added.

The town is facing several factors that could put pressure on tax rates next year.

For one, the school district is negotiating a new contract with teachers, whose salaries make up the bulk of the school operating budget.

For another, the first bond payment on the new Police Department will go into effect in 2005.

This year’s tax rate does not include anything for the station.

Extra costs related to the shrinking of the regional emergency dispatch center called MACC Base will also hit next year.