Courtesy of Lauren Garrett and Walter L. Morton IV

As Hamden residents have been feeling the pinch of high taxes, Democrats will head to the polls next Tuesday to decide which primary candidate to send to the general election in a mayoral race focused on taxes and budget priorities.

First-term incumbent Mayor Lauren Garrett is facing a primary challenge from Hamden Board of Education member Walter L. Morton IV. Garrett has held the office for one term. She successfully primaried former Hamden Mayor Curt Leng in 2021 after previously running for the office in 2019. 

Both candidates told the News their top three priorities if elected: Garrett said she would center improving the town’s fiscal health, economic development and infrastructure investments while Morton said he hopes to focus on lowering property taxes, increasing public safety and investing in education.

“The first priority is getting a hold on taxes and seeing how we can get the commercial growth we need as well as residential growth,” Morton said. “I see how the town’s financial issues really permeate everything we can do, from staffing to programming to all types of services.”

Morton’s vision includes lowering property taxes to attract new businesses and scrapping a plan to build a new community center. He described himself as a “big proponent of universal Pre-K,” citing his past support for the policy as a member of the Hamden Board of Education.

According to a 2021 Municipal Fiscal Indicators report released by the Office of Policy Management, Hamden had the highest debt per capita of any municipality in Connecticut at $20,567.

The 2023-24 Hamden budget increased the tax rate by 0.9 mills, the New Haven Register reported. The mill rate is the tax rate used to calculate property tax. The town’s mill rate was 55.48 in the 2022-23 fiscal year, the third highest of any Connecticut municipality and 15.73 mills higher than neighboring New Haven. 

Garrett meanwhile highlighted economic successes as she told the News that the bond rating, pension accounts and fund balance have improved under her administration. Alongside economic successes, Garrett spoke about how her administration’s aims to improve cycling and pedestrian infrastructure across town by adopting the “Complete Streets” policy.  

“The improvements that we’re seeing for our finances, the Complete Streets policy that we have in place for our infrastructure improvements, were all done under my administration,” she said. “While my opponent might also support those things, I’m the one who’s done the work.”

Her economic plan includes loosening zoning laws to attract new businesses, developing more traffic control infrastructure and improving the town’s sustainability in order to attract grant funding. She noted that since Hamden’s enrollment in Sustainable CT, a municipal certification program, in 2017, her administration oversaw the town’s first sustainability certification. 

Ted Stevens, a Hamden councilman and chair of the town’s Economic and Development Committee, is running for reelection as the eighth district council member on the same slate with Garrett. Stevens said he and Garrett are campaigning together on a platform of fiscal responsibility. 

Stevens said that their plan for stabilizing town finances “would probably involve tax increases for a few years,” which he called “a realistic and practical approach to take but not necessarily a popular one.”

Deborah Johnson, a 35-year resident of Hamden, said she is worried about the possibility of further tax increases.

“Our taxes are now going up again. [Garrett] knows that’s a major problem,” Johnson said. “It’s something that she inherited.” 

Johnson said she is unsure of who she will vote for but is leaning toward Garrett. Despite her financial concerns, Johnson reflected that “she’s come in and it’s been a breath of fresh air.”

Although Garrett won the Democratic Town Committee’s endorsement, Morton raised over four times as much money as Garrett in the first quarter from January through March, and almost double the amount the mayor raised in the second quarter from April through June, the New Haven Register reported.

As of 2020, Hamden had 4,509 registered Republicans and 20,186 registered Democrats.

The polls open at 6 a.m. in Hamden on Sept. 12.

Josie Reich covers Admissions, Financial Aid & Alumni for the News. Originally from Washington, DC, she is a sophomore in Davenport College majoring in American Studies.