WEST HAVEN — Newlyweds may bring something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue, but West Haven officials are seeing green.
According to city officials, there has been considerable growth in the number of marriage licenses — and resulting revenue — issued in City Hall, a trend they said dates back to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
City Clerk Patty Horvath said she believes one factor is that, while municipal offices around the region closed during the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, her office continued to function through an exterior window. However, the growth of wedding licenses issued by West Haven has continued to balloon since then, with $82,000 in revenue collected between June 30, 2022, and June 30 this year.
By comparison, the city collected $9,550 in revenue between July 2, 2018, and July 1, 2019, according to information provided by the city clerk's office.
Although the revenue from wedding licenses has grown, the city keeps less than half: in the most recent year, $55,760 went to the state, and West Haven held onto $26,240. Horvath said the cost of a marriage license has remained at $50 throughout the four-year period. In 2019, West Haven's share of the marriage license fee was $3,056.
Horvath said the city charges $20 for each certified copy of a marriage license that it issues, and the city keeps all of that revenue. Between June 30, 2022, and June 30 of this year, that totaled $47,456, documents show.
Horvath said an additional reason why West Haven City Hall has "weddings galore" is that the city has a model that makes it more convenient: her office makes justices of the peace available to officiate weddings in City Hall, whereas other municipalities often require that couples find an officiant of their own. Horvath said the cost of a West Haven justice of the peace officiant, which is paid directly to the justice of the peace, is lower than what couples would find most anywhere else.
"It probably is more unique here," she said.
Steven Mullins, a justice of the peace since 1999, said he gets called on occasion to officiate weddings.
"I'm called and if I'm available I take care of the ceremony, and if I'm not, I'm not. I'm happy to participate," he said.
Mullins said he also has noticed, anecdotally, an increased number of marriages in City Hall since the building reopened to the public after the pandemic.
"West Haven is one of the only [municipalities] in the state that will provide the JP," he said. "That's one thing that makes us rather appealing to people."
Horvath said the city is required to issue marriage licenses by law, and is only able to refuse them if they are able to prove that some sort of fraud has occurred. As a means of addressing the increasing numbers of applications for marriage certificates and City Hall weddings, Horvath said City Hall has ceased weddings on Fridays. She said they have also limited the hours from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., which allows her office to get work done in the morning in case there is an influx of couples seeking marriage licenses and also provides enough time at the end of the work day to wrap up their duties.
"I have a lot less staff than there were years ago, and our transactions have increased across the board: the land sales have gone up and elections are always plentiful," she said.
Victor Borras, a city councilman who also is a justice of the peace and an employee of the tax office — which is situated across the hall from the clerk's office on the first floor of City Hall, said the building gets "congested" during tax season, when couples waiting for marriage licenses wait in the hall alongside residents queued up to pay their taxes.
"It seems like it jumped up in the last three years for some reason. It seems kind of strange," he said. "It seems like it just bloomed."
Although the increase in marriages has created more work for city employees and increased the overall foot traffic in City Hall, Mullins said there are financial upsides for city businesses and tourist spots. He said he has officiated numerous weddings for couples traveling from outside the city or outside the state, and they'll ask him for recommendations on places to eat or visit.
"They utilize our restaurants and flower shops and jewelry stores, so it's good for downtown business," he said. "I think it's a small boost to the local economy."
Patricia Spruance, Windham town clerk and president of the Connecticut Town Clerks Association, said municipal clerks across the state have observed that they are issuing more marriage licenses. She said that, year over year, it's true of Windham: in June, she issued 30 marriage licenses but last June she issued only 13 and in July 2023 she issued 14 whereas last July she issued 12.
Spruance said neither she nor the state's clerks can identify any specific reason for the uptick.
"I guess that seems to speak to maybe hopefulness," she said. "We say that maybe love is in the air."