Thursday, December 09, 2010

City Taxes

While doing some research on Waterbury's industrial history, I came across an interesting tidbit of information in Volume I of Pape's History of Waterbury (1918). In 1905, the widow of Augustus Sabin Chase purchased land to create a park in memory of her husband. She donated the park to the city, which led (somehow, not explained by Pape) to a charter amendment "providing for an annual tax for park purposes of one quarter of a mill passed the General Assembly and became a law operative for 1906."

Furthermore, "The appropriation under the new tax brought about rapid improvements particularly at Hamilton Park. Boats were placed on the lake for the first time. Flower beds were laid out, trees were set out, and work was begun on the swimming pool and on the athletic field."

An abundance of park improvements followed over the next few years. A playground was created at Locust and Walnut Streets, the Green was given new soil and seeded with grass, a marsh at Hamilton Park was turned into a lake and a baseball field and lawn tennis courts were laid out. By 1913, Hamilton Park "had become the great breathing place of the city."

I don't know what happened with the park department budget. I can see that they are woefully underfunded, but I don't know if they are still budgeted for a quarter of a mill.

[UPDATE: Since posting this, I've been informed that a quarter of a mill in Waterbury is currently about $1.25 million and that the Waterbury park department operating budget is about $2.1 million. For comparison, the New York City park department operating budget in 2008 was $340 million, while Central Park alone has an operating budget of about $20 million; Lincoln, Nebraska (with a population of about 251,000) has a park operating budget of $11.35 million for its 6000 acres of parks and open space; Lowell, Massachusetts (population of about 104,000) had a park department budget of $2.7 million in 2009.]

If city taxpayers were told that the mill rate was to be increased by a quarter of a mill in order to pay for improvements to the parks, I think they would be happy about that. In fact, the same is probably true for any city service--when we're told the mill rate is going up in order to maintain the status quo, taxpayers rightfully get upset. We're being asked to pay more without getting more, which is hard to stomach when we're not getting enough as it is. But if we were told that the mill rate is going up in order to pay for desired additional city services (like good sidewalks, better enforcement of anti-blight and anti-litter laws, improved parks), I think most taxpayers would be willing to make that sacrifice (assuming they can afford it!).

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