Local elected officials gathered at the Legislative Office Building Wednesday to ask the General Assembly and Gov. M. Jodi Rell to increase funding for cities and towns in the second year of the biennial budget, which is up for discussion next month when the new legislative session begins.
A bipartisan group of first selectmen and mayors said unless the state increases the scheduled 3.7 percent increase in funding to municipalities, taxpayers across the state will face significant property tax increases in fiscal year 2008-09.
Mansfield Mayor Elizabeth Paterson said cities and towns will also lose about $40 million in revenue, if the state decides to sunset the real estate conveyance tax. She said most the state’s education aid is flat funded in the second year of the biennial budget, while energy costs and health insurance continue to escalate. She said it all adds up to the “perfect property tax storm.”
Old Saybrook First Selectman Michael Pace said “This is not the municipalities coming to the state crying for more money.” He said it’s the municipalities coming to the state saying, “Let’s redefine what our relationship is.” He said he wants to look at all the budgets and find efficiencies, not increase other taxes, such as the income tax.
“We’re asking for a partnership,” Pace said.
But New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, who has been discussing property tax reform for what feels like decades, said he would be willing to discuss a property tax based on 5 percent of a persons adjusted gross income. He said its hard for elderly homeowners to pay property tax increases on property that has increased in value, while their income has stayed the same.
He said a “blunt” instrument like the property tax cap that Mrs. Rell introduced for a second time this past December won’t work unless you figure out how to fully fund the education cost sharing grant, develop smart growth strategies, and create regional partnerships. He said if you do those things, then he would be amenable to a property tax cap.
Simsbury First Selectwoman Mary Glassman said Simsbury is one of nine towns that get more than 90 percent of their revenue from property taxes. She said her community is looking to increase commercial development and grow its grand list, so there’s more property tax revenue coming in to pay for services. “We don’t want it, but we need it in order to get that revenue,” Glassman said.
She said there are “169 towns and cities doing things 169 different ways.”
Connecticut Conference of Municipalities Executive Director James Finley said Connecticut is “the land of steady habits for a reason.” He said it’s time for the state to be proactive and address the tax structure in a bipartisan way. He said the governor to her credit offered a solution, but it’s a single solution to a complicated problem.