This letter is written by Philip Sengle:
Clinton will vote on April 11th, yes or no, on building a new high school on a new site. It’s unfortunate we are not given the options of a new building on the existing site or renovation options. But the choice does not end on April 11th.
Clinton is under orders from the state to solve its long standing pollution problem. The school project is discretionary; fixing our pollution problem is not. A new school would be nice. The question is affordability.
The Clinton Taxpayers Association has estimated that by 2016 our mill rate will be over thirty. They used historical inflation rates for the town and education budget and the debt load caused by a school. Many seem okay with this outcome. The problem is this estimate did not include a waste water solution because the cost is unknown. But just as day follows night, the cost will come home to roost. Estimates have ranged from forty to sixty million dollars. With a state reimbursement rate of only 25% on these projects, the impact on tax rates will be significant.
The state order and eventual fining of the town for non-compliance that might come with it aside, without a waste water solution; economic development in Clinton will remain at a standstill. We’ve got to have real economic development to pay for the projects we want, especially the school. A new tattoo parlor won’t do it. We spend first and then look for ways to pay for it last. It’s the proverbial cart before the horse.
As the mill rate rises, businesses will not move here and more will leave, shifting the burden increasingly to homeowners. The most recent example of this is our West Marine Store moving to a beautiful new facility in Old Saybrook, where incidentally tax rates are lower. Residential properties don’t sustain education with per pupil costs over fifteen thousand dollars annually and rising. Cutting budgets is not a long term solution - generating more revenue is. A resurgence of economic development on and near Route 1 is critical to Clinton’s future (aka it tax base). This cannot and will not happen without a proper waste water solution.
Some believe building a school will spur economic development. This is more hope, than strategy. My hope is that parents will get more concerned about Clinton’s student performance, than they are about a new building. It’s possible some development will result from a new school (principally the current Morgan site), but the higher tax rates that are inevitable will work against that. A better economic development plan would be to buy property and turn it into an industrial park, giving tenants a tax break to come to Clinton. This would also produce jobs we badly need.
My most serious concern is that if the school is approved, the waste water project will be defeated at the polls later this year, as even the pro-school voters will have reached their tolerance for taxing and spending. This outcome would be a disaster for Clinton’s economic future and potentially trigger the fining mentioned above. We should be voting on waste water treatment first as a necessary project.
Unfortunately for Clinton’s future, the town government focuses on popular projects without attending to necessary economic development. We must get Clinton on a sustainable economic footing with a tax rate close to its neighbors or be prepared to watch your homes’ resale value decline.
Philip C. Sengle