WETHERSFIELD - With the Wethersfield Town Council’s 2014-15 budget officially set, taxes are expected to go up, but the town’s Grand List has shrunk, according to a presentation before the Council given by Town Manager Jeff Bridges a few weeks ago.
While the mill rate will see an increase from 34.46 to 37.05, Wethersfield’s Grand List, currently worth $2.20 billion, is 5.06 percent less than last year’s, Bridges said.
Residents can express slow growth, at best, in a town that is, for the most part, lacking of space for new development, said Director of Economic Development Peter Gillipsie.
“The reality is the community is pretty much built out from a residential standpoint, and even somewhat to a commercial,” Gillipsie said. “So trying to maintain and enhance what we have is really the main objective.”
That’s where there has been some good news. At a Council meeting held two weeks ago, Gillipsie gave an economic development report highlighting a slew of activity that included the opening of a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant on the Silas Deane Highway, the issuing of a permit for a Chips Restaurant--a new installment of a Fairfield County-based chain--in the Goff Brooke Shops plaza, and a certificate of occupancy for a Hartford Hospital medical building on the Silas Deane.
Gillipsie said that an office an office building at 1290 Silas Deane Highway is “almost completely full” to the tune of “several hundred” jobs. Other projects include redevelopment of the parking lot at Comstock Ferre & Co., and ongoing construction of Nott Street’s Double-A Vetinary Clinic, according to the report.
There have also been talks of renovating the former Wells Tavern at 580 Silas Deane Highway, and leasing out the former Amici’s restaurant building at 672 Silas Deane Highway, the report said.
“There are a lot of good indicators here for potential home development and building lots,” Gillipsie said. “We saw a huge uptick in home construction last year, but there’s just not a lot of space for new development.”
Wethersfield’s problem is not unique. Over in Newington, Economic Development Director Andy Brecher is constantly trying to find creative ways to grow the grand list in a town in which councilors try to walk the line between maintaining services while curbing the increased tax burden on its residents come budget time, and it’s never easy.
Last year, Newington saw $25 million in new construction--only 1 percent of a $2.5 billion Grand List, and that’s before you consider negative factors such as demolition and depreciation, Brecher said in March. That same year, the town shed $12.5 million from its Grand List.
Two years ago, a Wethersfield referendum to put $2 million toward economic development failed to garner enough resident support for approval, but only by a few hundred votes, according to Gillipsie. Part of the process was evaluating how much development it would take to have a “significant” impact on the grand list.
“It was eye-opening to see how much redevelopment we’d have to have to raise the tax base significantly,” he said. “Our tax base is not going to dramatically increase even if all the areas we hit all the area we want to get redeveloped. We try to maintain and increase a little bit.”