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August 24, 2019  |  

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A Strategy for Shrinking Demographics

Published Aug. 14, 2019

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On July 25, First Selectman Tom Banisch presented the first iteration of Madison’s new Strategic Plan. A few of us (about five excluding the Board of Selectmen (BOS) and other elected officials) attended this meeting to see what a $19,000 check to Management Partners had purchased. Most of us in attendance left believing the money could have been better spent elsewhere.

Despite some wonderfully aspirational ideology, the proposed Strategic Plan has no specific actionable items, no specific time frame, nor does it address the fundamental issues facing our town.

Several in attendance brought up key points of concern—in particular the challenge presented by changing demographics and projected costs. Selectman Bruce Wilson offered the following in response: “Ultimately it comes down to home values and quality of life…Our success will depend on [whether we] can deliver better than surrounding towns.”

In a town where about 95 percent of our revenue stream comes from property taxes, this answer fails. Our demographic decline—this year’s Kindergarten class is more than 100 students smaller than the 2019 Daniel Hand High School graduating class—is our greatest risk to sustainability. Even if town leadership can formulate a town budget freeze (as the Board of Education did this year), those of us who remain will be shouldering a larger percentage of the tax burden.

Increased commercial development could help, but it would take the property taxes of several Walmart-sized businesses to obviate increased individual property taxes. Marginally improved personal property values will do nothing to change this. Moreover, absent adequate population, local businesses will struggle. Our best hope for sustained tax relief is to increase the number of home owners sharing the burden.

A strategic plan without a strategy for shrinking demographics and associated costs is not worth the paper it’s printed on.

Jonathan Stein
Madison

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