WEST HAVEN >> Residents of the Allingtown Fire District came out in force this week to tell the City Council that a tax increase of nearly 1 1/2 mills on top of past tax increases is not acceptable — and they don’t feel that the Allingtown section gets the same
services as other parts of the city.
About a dozen Allingtown residents, most of them residents of color, turned out for the City Council meeting Monday night, causing the council to move the meeting from the third floor Council chambers to the Harriet C. North Community Room on the second floor of City Hall.
While no tax increase is proposed for the citywide tax rate, which would remain at the current 35.26 mills, the separate tax rate to support the formerly independent but now city-run City of West Haven Fire Department — Allingtown would rise from the current 11.07 mills to 12.53 mills.
That tax rate — to be added on top of the city rate — is 0.72 mill higher than the Allingtown Board of Fire Commissioners proposed. Even before any increase, Allingtown has the highest tax rate in the city.
The other two fire districts, the First or Center District and the West Shore District — both still independent — have yet to meet to set their tax rates for next year.
“I promise you that I’m going to fight you all the way,” said Sandra Burns of Bedford Street, an Allingtown resident for 50 years.
“You need to ask God if you’re doing ... what he wants you to,” said Burns, who charged that the perceived lack of services in Allingtown — long an issue among Allingtown residents — was racially motivated.
“Now, if you don’t like us, then you need to resign,” Burns, who is African American, told Mayor Ed O’Brien and the council.
“But you’re not going to mistreat any of our representatives, you’re not going to mistreat our residents, because we deserve” better and “we pay taxes, too,” she said, making reference to three Allingtown Board of Fire Commissioners members, two of whom were removed or not reappointed.
The third one, Iris Diaz, remains on the board but was ousted from her former position as chairwoman early this year.
“I’m going to start having prayer vigils. We’re going to start praying,” Burns said. “We’ll pray that God brings businesses into this city. ... But you’re not going to tax us out of our homes.
“You need to make a list of all that you’ve done for Allingtown,” Burns said. “What have you done for us? ... I’m going to put a face to Allingtown. ... I’m telling you, Mr. Mayor, enough is enough.”
O’Brien, speaking later in the meeting, told Allingtown residents, “Your voices were heard loud and clear. They are always heard loud and clear.”
He said that when he took office, he pledged to spread services equally across the city, and he has been working to do that — and also has worked to bring economic development such as The Atwood and O’Reilly Auto Parts into Allingtown to help lessen the tax burden.
With regard to Burns’ charge of racism, O’Brien said he was hesitant to say too much, but “I think that my life’s work ... has proven that that’s not the case.”
said that one of the ousted commissioners “didn’t show up for 22 months,” and “another one’s term was up.” He said he had a right to make changes.
“I have a vision, and my vision is to move West Haven forward,” O’Brien said. While he said “the last thing I want to do is raise taxes,” anyone would have to go back well before O’Brien came into office to find a time they did not go up.
Councilman David Forsyth, D-At Large, who lives in Allingtown, responded, “I’m not a racist — never have been.”
He added that “I take pride in my community” and “when we talk about parks, it’s not just the city workers that can pick up garbage in the parks. When I go to a park, I pick up garbage.” He urged residents to do so, as well.
While Burns was the only one who specifically charged that racism was an issue, several other speakers decried Allingtown’s rising taxes.
“You’re supposed to be for the people — meaning everybody!” said one Dalton Street resident who said he works several jobs just to stay afloat. “My taxes are going up” yet his street look horrible, he said. “Again, you want to raise taxes? How much does UNH (University of New Haven) give West Haven?”
Blanche Reeves Tucker, an Edna Street resident who identified herself as “a proud state employee for the last 31 years,” said she was concerned “as to, do you really listen to the people?”
She made it clear that “I can’t afford to have my taxes go up any further. ... I cannot afford to have my taxes raised. ... I love West Haven. This is my home.”
But “there’s a difference” in the services you get, depending on where you live, Tucker said. She said her mother, who lives “closer to the beach,” has seen her street paved three times during the same period in which Tucker has seen her street paved once.
Sanford Street resident Margaret Ashley said she moved to West Haven from Stratford 30 years ago, and over the years, “our streets haven’t been paved” and “I had to come out and fight” to get trees cut on her property.
She also complained of problems with college students moving into the neighborhood, bringing in parties that “go on all night.”
Former longtime City Councilwoman Martha Bell, who represented part of Allingtown, called the Allingtown fire budget “an unacceptable budget” and ran down a number of items she said could be cut.
“I ask each and every one of you council persons not to vote for this because they don’t even tell us how many people they want to pay,” Bell said. “There is definitely a lack of transparency in this City of West Haven Fire Department — Allingtown budget.”
Allingtown resident and former fire commissioner Margaret Krzeminski said that when Allingtown voters opted to merge the fire department into the city, the reason was “because the people refused to vote on the budget five times” and “the only way the district was going to get money was to go with the city.”
Councilman David Riccio, R-At Large, who plans to run for mayor against O’Brien in November, told residents, “You can count on one thing as we’re going through the budget ... I will be looking for” no tax increase throughout the city.
Democratic mayoral candidate and former councilwoman Nancy Rossi told the council that “everybody wants to be treated fairly.”
“Allingtown is very diverse,” she said. “Their fire commission should reflect the neighborhood — and it doesn’t.”
Several city officials offered help for residents.
Constituent Complaint Officer Fran Withington urged residents with complaints about services to call him at 203-937-3514. He said he regularly drives around Allingtown to make sure that past complaints have been taken care of.
He said of city Public Works crews, “These guys are working. ... The Public Works Department is at bare bones. You can’t cut anything from the Public Works Department.”
He called UNH “an excellent neighbor, and if you call them, they will address the problem. You can call my phone number anytime. You can call University of New Haven. You can call Notre Dame. ... I implore you to call me. I take this job very seriously.”
Councilman Ron Quagliani, D-At Large, who is the city’s former police chief, reminded residents that he now works at University of New Haven as associate vice president of public safety and administrative services.
While UNH “does not place (students) in the neighborhood ... at the end of the day, their behavior matters,” Quagliani said. He said he works with council members all the time. But he also urged people to get in touch with him if they have a problem — going so far as to give out his work and home phone numbers: 203-932-7147 and 203-937-9990, respectively.
City Director of Finance Kevin McNabola said that Allingtown’s proposed increase was increased by the mayor “because there was a deficit that was projected in the health care item.”
He said the problems with the Allingtown fire service budget can be traced to a new contract signed just before O’Brien came into office, which took effect on July 1, 2013, giving out raises that the district and the city can’t afford. He also cited an increase in health care and pension payouts that continue to increase according to the Consumer Price Index.
“These contractual obligations that were put into place back in 2013 are now coming to roost,” McNabola said. “Those are the reasons why. To these people who came out tonight, I just gave a reason why ... these taxes have to go up.”