It’s been a rough 2019 for the Town of Berlin’s government and property owners.
The year kicked off with officials letting it be known a major increase in property taxes and utility fees would be coming. The additional money grab from the citizens was needed to address significant revenue inadequacies, a result of consistent borrowing from the general fund reserves to offset losses in the town’s utilities. After months of deliberations, the town council voted to approve an 18% property tax hike and increases to utility fees while reducing its overall spending by 18%. The council made it clear this spring another round of increases to the property tax and utilities is likely next year, although not as large.
Though news of the increases was known for months, the impact was not felt until this month when property tax bills arrived. A gauge of a dozen residential properties of varying values showed the property tax increase from Berlin resulted in a range of $450 to $850 more in taxes this year for homeowners.
The timing of the bills for these increases arriving in town mailboxes coincides with Berlin being forced this week to spend in excess of $107,000 for cleanup of an avoidable chemical spill at Berlin Falls Park. The spill occurred during the process of demolishing several old buildings on the property. The demolition work alone cost $124,000. A result of those efforts was the chemical spill. Therefore, Berlin has spent more than $230,000 at the park this year after purchasing it for $2.5 million in 2016. That number will surely increase as the town is now paying a security firm to monitor the site on a 24-hour basis.
The increased property taxes and the need to continue to pump funds into this new park combine for horrible optics for the town. These facts are not lost on the town’s citizenry – traditionally a reserved bunch for decades.
While Berlin has a lot going for it, including a thriving commercial base of businesses and distinctive architecture, there is an undercurrent of disappointment currently. In some cases, there is rage among residents. It’s the most agitated citizens who are commenting in strong fashion on social media news stories. Rather than take the high road, some council members are routinely engaging with these residents, resorting to describing residents as liars.
These exchanges coupled with bad fiscal decisions and the park mishap result in a public relations mess that will only improve as time passes.