How just a few years makes a difference!
Cleck here for latest property tax story in the news...remember this one?  Pretty glum news state-by-state, too!

Property Tax page:  What is the alternative to the property tax?
 





HOW ABOUT A STATE-WIDE INCOME TAX (TO PAY FOR ECS GRANT SHORTFALL)?

"EVEN MOO" COMMISSION IN 2015? BOSSIE'S PROPOSAL.  BILL CURRY HAD AN IDEA IN 2002...The LWVUS STUDY in 2009 graphic and the CT distressed municipalilites.





Gov. Rell's car tax proposal, another, and another.  This the first time anyone looked at the property tax?  Read "more" here.




Speaker Focuses On Property Taxes, Malloy Looks For Efficiencies
CTNEWSJUNKIE
by Christine Stuart | Jan 24, 2013 1:00pm

Before the recession began back in 2008, a movement to reform the state’s dependence on the property tax to fund education and other local services was beginning to pick up steam, House Speaker Brendan Sharkey reminded a group of advocates.

He said when former Gov. M. Jodi Rell was still in office there was “outright rebellion” brewing over the property tax before the markets crashed. He predicted that “once that world crisis and national crisis abets, the property tax will be the crisis once again.”

“I believe there’s a drag on the economy based on the fact that we rely so heavily on the property tax,” Sharkey said Thursday at a Capitol budget forum sponsored by CT Voices for Children.

In order to relieve some of that burden, Sharkey has been a long time proponent of regional cooperation. He even chaired a committee which help create and fund through the state budget a program to incentivize cities and towns to work collectively to create efficiencies and lower the cost of delivering services.

But with the state facing a $2.2 billion budget deficit over the next two years, Sharkey admitted there may not be many incentives for that type of cooperation in the future.

“We’re going to need cities and towns to step up and start doing the things we’ve been talking about,” Sharkey said...full report here.



Communities still feeling the property tax bite, municipal lobby says
Keith M. Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
September 24, 2012


Very small increases in municipal aid over the past two years -- while appreciated -- haven't been enough to reverse Connecticut's over-reliance on property taxes, the state's chief municipal lobby is reminding candidates this fall.  The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities issued its first bulletin Monday to candidates for the state House and Senate, also urging them to make additional education funding one of their priorities.  But leaders of the General Assembly's budget-writing panel also warned Monday that while cities and towns enjoy strong support in the legislature, few guarantees can be made while the state budget continues to face stiff challenges.

"A property-tax-dependent system only works fairly if the property and income wealth of a community can generate enough property tax revenue at a reasonable cost to taxpayers to meet the need for public services, or [if] state aid is sufficient to fill local revenue gaps," CCM Executive Director James Finley said.

Connecticut's 169 cities and towns, along with their boroughs, fire districts and other political subdivisions, levied about $8.7 billion in property taxes in 2009-10, the last fiscal year for which CCM has complete records, Finley said, adding that the total, once updated, likely would clear $9 billion for the current year.  Property taxes provide about 72 percent of the revenue for municipalities, while state aid -- which stands at about $3 billion -- represents 24 percent, according to CCM.

Finley said Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the legislature deserve high marks for launching the first state revenue-sharing initiative. Cities and towns got an extra $50 million in 2011, receiving a portion of state sales, real estate conveyance, hotel and car rental taxes.  And communities saw another modest $50 million increase in the education cost-sharing grant this year.  But despite those increases, municipal aid largely has remained flat over the last five years, meaning communities actually have lost ground due to inflation, Finley said.

State officials could make a significant dent in the property tax problem by closing long-standing gaps in education funding programs, according to CCM.

Though the education cost-sharing program provides nearly $2 billion to cities and towns, the formula used to award funds actually called for the state to provide $724 million more than it did this year.

Similarly, state officials also failed to provide another $101 million in special education grants called for in funding formulas because of budget constraints.

"The key to property tax relief is education finance reform," he said. "The overdependence on the property tax is unsustainable, and hometown Connecticut is in desperate need of revenue assistance."

The need to examine how schools are financed has caught the attention of top state lawmakers, and the panel whose job it is to figure out how to fix the highly critized and underfunded formula is slated to finish its work by Dec. 1.

Though Finley added that "harnessing the revenue-raising capacity of the state and sharing resources with local governments is one way to reduce the over-reliance on property taxes," he stopped short of recommending any specific state tax increase.

Democratic legislators from Connecticut's urban centers began to talk this summer of boosting the state's top marginal income tax rate on the wealthiest households in 2013 if state budget problems persist.

Despite more than $1.5 billion in new taxes and fees, as well as a major union concession plan, the general fund in the $20.14 billion budget adopted for 2011-12 finished $143 million in the red.

Malloy and legislators closed that deficit and deposited $78 million into the state's emergency budget reserve. But they did that by raiding $222 million that was supposed to be used to pay down debt from the 2009 state budget.

And the administration reported last week that the $20.5 billion budget for the new fiscal year that began July 1 already is running $27 million in deficit.

But the co-chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee warned Monday against making any promises about town aid.

"Right now it's kind of premature," Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, said. "There are so many things that go into the budget and I think we have to wait and see. I think we have to be fair to the whole state."

"We really pay a lot of attention to what they (municipal leaders) think," added Sen. Toni Harp, D-New Haven, the panel's other co-chairwoman, who added that the legislature spared cities and towns from any budget cuts during the last recession. "I can't imagine we would do any less next year, and I'm hopeful we can do more."



"Regressive" and "Progressive" and "Neutral (or no imbalance)" are the 3 gears of the government's taxing motor...
Municipal Lobby Shines Light On Property Taxes, Gears Up For Legislative Debate
CTNEWSJUNKIE
by Christine Stuart | Sep 24, 2012 4:33pm

It doesn’t matter how much money you make or if your company turned a profit, cities and towns will still be looking to levy property taxes on your home or business, Connecticut Conference of Municipalities Executive Director Jim Finley said Monday.

“It’s the most regressive tax in our state and local tax system,” Finley told reporters at a Capitol press conference.

Finley, who is in charge of the largest municipal lobby in the state, said they put out a position statement and will be launching a media campaign in order to make sure state and federal officials are aware of the issues facing cities and towns.

In case you didn’t know, 72 percent of municipal revenue comes from property taxes, while just 24 percent comes from state government, according to Finley....

In the meantime, Barnes suggested cities and towns take advantage of the regional competitive grants.

“Ultimately it’s up to local governments to work together to make regionalism more successful,” Barnes said.



ELECTION 2010 IN CT
Who's going to say the Emperor is not wearing any clothes?  Or more aptly put, we are going broke faster than we can pawn our assests?




Plainville's Budget Dilemma: Not Much Land Left To Develop
STRUGGLE FOR REVENUE
Hartford Courant
By KEN BYRON
May 14, 2010

PLAINVILLE — — Year after year, the tax revenue collected by the town increased substantially — often by hundreds of thousands of dollars — simply because property values were rising and new developments were added to the tax rolls.

On open land throughout town, builders constructed new homes and commercial projects, turning Plainville into one of the most densely settled communities in the region, according to the Central Connecticut Regional Planning Agency.

Such development was great news for municipal leaders, who could raise more money without raising the tax rate because of the steady increases in the grand list of taxable property values.

But that growth now appears to be grinding to a halt. At 9.8 square miles, Plainville is the fifth-smallest municipality in Connecticut by area, and is very close to being completely built out, with little open space left for new construction, two recent reports have found.

As a result, the town — and others like it — is facing the realization that the source of its annual "pay raise" is going away.

Some cities, such as New London, encompassing 10.76 square miles, are actually seeing decreases in their grand list in this battered economy.

Martin Berliner, New London's city manager, said that there has been some growth, but that many new businesses are moving into storefronts already on the tax rolls. "We've had just enough growth in recent years to get by," he said.

Plainville's Pattern

The growth in Plainville's grand list has slowed dramatically in the past three years.

The 2007 grand list was $12.13 million higher than the year before, town figures show. But the following year, the grand list went up just $3.79 million as the recession worsened. In 2009, the increase was $2.53 million.

As a result, "Things we don't want to do this year we may have no choice but to do next year, like tax increases or significant cuts in services," said Town Manager Robert Lee.

Residents already are grappling with the problem. In two referendums this spring, they have overwhelmingly rejected proposed budgets that would have substantially raised taxes. In response, town officials are considering further cuts to a budget that already eliminates five open positions, including a police officer. The first budget rejected called for an 8.3 percent tax increase, the second one, 6.7 percent.

Why did the town propose such substantial tax increases in a recession? Because of the dramatic drop in revenue.



Tax Bill Appeals Take Rising Toll on Governments
NYTIMES
By JACK HEALY
July 5, 2009

Homeowners across the country are challenging their property tax bills in droves as the value of their homes drop, threatening local governments with another big drain on their budgets.

The requests are coming in record numbers, from owners of $10 million estates and one-bedroom bungalows, from residents of the high-tax enclaves surrounding New York City, and from taxpayers in the Rust Belt and states like Arizona, Florida and California, where whole towns have been devastated by the housing bust.

“It’s worthy of a Dickens story,” said Gus Kramer, the assessor in Contra Costa County, Calif., outside San Francisco. “These people are desperate. They know their home’s gone down in value. They’ve watched their neighborhoods being boarded up. They literally stand in there and say: ‘When can I have my refund check? I need to feed my family. I need to pay my electric bill.’ ”

The tax appeals and reassessments present a new budget nightmare for governments. In a survey conducted by the National Association of Counties, 76 percent of large counties said that falling property tax revenue was significantly affecting their budgets, said Jacqueline Byers, the association’s research director.

Officials in some states say their property tax revenue is falling for the first time since World War II.

The recession has already taken a significant toll on states’ budgets, as rising joblessness, a weak business climate and a drop in consumer demand have cut sharply into receipts from taxes on sales, personal income and business earnings.

The pain at the state level is trickling down to county and local governments. To compensate, about 10 percent of large counties are raising the tax rates associated with home values to minimize the revenue loss, the county association said.

Even so, most counties simply have to absorb the lost revenue. Municipalities are laying off workers, renegotiating labor contracts, freezing salaries and cutting services.

The revenue losses are coming as homeowners prod towns for new assessments, and as municipalities conduct regular revaluations of their real estate. While declining residential values weigh heaviest on many governments, the value of commercial real estate is also sliding as businesses shut down and move out of storefronts or shopping malls.

Property taxes are meted out by a disparate patchwork of cities, towns, counties, and school and fire districts, all with their own rules. Because tax formulas vary widely county to county, not every decrease in assessed values automatically lowers a household’s property taxes.

But officials across the country say there is no question that the number of appeals has risen from the usual trickle to a flood.

In suburban Atlanta, thousands of people lined up at government offices to file their requests for reassessments before a March 31 deadline. In parts of Ohio, appeals have multiplied fivefold. Tax lawyers in the northern suburbs of New York say they have never been so busy, and some towns have hired extra employees to sift through the paperwork and are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on legal fees to deal with the cases in tax courts.

The call for counties to acknowledge the falling price of homes is loudest in states where taxes are highest, or the housing crisis has hit the hardest.

“We’ve been absolutely getting killed,” said Robert W. Singer, the mayor of Lakewood Township, N.J., and a state senator, whose town is setting aside $2 million to pay tax refunds to homeowners. “We’ve never had this before. Usually they’re undervalued. Now, everyone’s overvalued.”

The appeals are not just coming from individual homeowners. Condominium associations and entire subdivisions are pushing for new tax assessments, as are companies that own office towers, industrial parks and shopping malls.

New Jersey, which has the nation’s highest property taxes, has been besieged by tax appeals from homeowners like Peggy Tombro, whose rambling home in Bound Brook is assessed at a value of $1.8 million but is languishing on the market with an asking price of $1.3 million. Her taxes are increasing to $53,000 a year.

“I don’t know what else to do,” said Ms. Tombro, 63, who has gone back to work selling antiques to pay her tax bill.

In the Inland Empire of California, near Los Angeles, Joylette Lynch, 70, is challenging the assessed value of her home as she tries to scrape together $1,158 a month to pay her mortgage, taxes and other bills. Her two-bedroom house in a community for older residents was worth as much as $280,000 three years ago, but houses on her block are now selling for less than $100,000.

“If the house is not worth what I bought it for, why am I paying the same amount in taxes?” she asked.

Ms. Lynch, meanwhile, lost her job at a Bed, Bath & Beyond this year, and is behind on her mortgage payments. Shaving a few hundred dollars off her annual tax bill of $4,300 might not keep her out of foreclosure, but it would help, she said.

“Everything’s in God’s hands now,” she said.

Officials say stories like these are common as unemployment hits 9.5 percent and people seek to trim their budgets. Appraisers and assessors, normally concerned with land values and comparable sales, are becoming ersatz crisis counselors.

Jeff Furst, the appraiser in St. Lucie County, Fla., said a 62-year-old man recently walked into his office and described how his wife had been laid off and his salary had been cut in half. He was struggling to pay his taxes and looking for relief, Mr. Furst said.

“We’re hearing from people like this every day,” Mr. Furst said. In St. Lucie, which sits along the Atlantic, property tax revenue is expected to fall 20 percent, and tax appeals are 10 times as high as they are normally. “Most people are going to see a significant decline in their tax bill.”

Mr. Kramer, the assessor in Contra Costa County, said homeowners started swamping his office with requests for new assessments in December. As many as 500 people would call in one day. His voice mail message now begins: “If you’re calling to request an informal review of your property value due to the declining real estate market.”

Contra Costa has now reduced the recorded value of more than a third of the 350,000 privately owned properties in the county.

Lisa Driscoll, the county’s budget director, said property tax revenue had been growing about 8 to 9 percent a year but was now projected to decline 5 percent next year. The county has cut $50 million from its budget to offset the decline in real estate and other taxes.

Bonnie Grassley’s house in Fort Pierce, Fla., reflects the rise and fall of the broader economy. Its assessed value topped $153,000 in 2006, as Florida’s housing market caught fire. Now, it is worth $77,500.

Though her tax bill is only $150 a month, Ms. Grassley is out of work, spending her savings, and says she hopes a reassessment will save a couple hundred dollars a year.

“My home means everything to me, and it’s all I really have,” Ms. Grassley said. “I’m determined to keep it, come hell or high water. It’s a terrible way to lose your home, just over taxes.”



Property-Tax System Again In Reform Spotlight; Critics Revive Attempts To Eliminate The State's Reliance On Local Levies
DAY
By Ted Mann        
Published on 1/17/2008

Hartford — New Haven Mayor John DeStefano stood with a group of municipal officials Wednesday as they called for more municipal aid and a solution to the state's property-tax woes, admitting theirs was a familiar song.

“We had this press conference 10 years ago,” DeStefano said. “I think it was me, Peters and Joe Ganim. We're all in different places now.”

Peters is Melodie Peters, then the Democratic state senator from Waterford and now an adviser to Dominion Nuclear Energy. Ganim was the nattily dressed Democratic mayor of Bridgeport who now resides, thanks to a corruption conviction, in federal prison.

But DeStefano is still the mayor of New Haven, still talking about the perils of the state's reliance on the local property tax, and the song of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities remains the same.

And for the umpteenth straight year, the General Assembly's regular session, which begins in February, will feature impassioned pleas from town officials and their representatives in the House and Senate to finally achieve “property-tax reform” — a term as universally invoked as it is vaguely defined.

CCM, the municipal lobbying group, called on the Democrat-led state legislature and Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell on Wednesday to “put aside politics” this year and finally craft a tax structure that reduces cities' and towns' dependence on property taxes to fund public education and local government. The existing system encourages wasteful and ill-planned growth, they argue, and leaves local governments hopelessly dependent on state aid payments to offset tax hikes.

The group also warned that the coming year's 3.7 percent overall increase in state aid for towns would not keep pace with rising energy and health insurance costs that are battering town budgets, and urged lawmakers to extend the current local tax on real estate conveyances that has provided towns with a way to augment their budgets without raising property taxes for residents.

“We can all agree that property taxes are too high and that concerted state action is necessary,” said Elizabeth Patterson, the mayor of Mansfield and the organization's president, in a refrain that has been repeated by local officials at the outset of legislative sessions for years.

Unless the governor and legislature act to assist towns with more aid, cities and towns “face steep property-tax hikes, huge reductions in services, or both.”

State funding for education increased last year, but aid that many towns receive for non-education spending is expected to drop, the organization said. Montville, East Lyme and Groton are among towns expected to see the decline. Montville's non-education aid will decline by more than $1 million in the next fiscal year, the second year of the 2007-09 biennial budget, CCM analysts said, which would outweigh the town's increasing school funding and mean a year-over-year loss of close to $500,000 from the state.

Only Montville and the city of Stamford will see a net decrease in the total amount of state aid under the current budget, but others will see funding grow only slightly. East Lyme's total state aid will grow by just 0.6 percent, and Groton's by just 1.2 percent, according to CCM's calculations.

Montville Mayor Joseph Jaskiewicz said town officials were awaiting further details about the level of state aid to expect, but added that the decrease in funding did not come as a total surprise. The town's recent revaluation, in which Montville lowered its mill rate, had been expected to reduce some state aid grants because mill rates are used in the formulas used to calculate the grants, Jaskiewicz said.

Meanwhile, CCM members of both parties and many of the legislature's Democrats continue to take a very dim view of Rell's chief proposal: To once again call for a 3 percent cap on property-tax increases by cities and towns. That proposal has been a tough sell even among fellow Republicans, since many local government officials say it would limit the towns' ability to raise revenues while doing nothing to combat the factors that are driving up their costs, including insurance, fuel prices and the mandates placed on them by the state government.

“Don't pass limits that you can't make work,” said Mayor Sebastian Giuliano of Middletown, one of those Republicans. “And I don't think you can make a cap work.”

Senate President Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, derided the proposal at a separate news conference Wednesday, saying it would only exacerbate the desperate struggle for economic development in rural and suburban towns that he and others contend is ruining their character.

“The governor's proposal,” Williams said, “would essentially leave no cornfield unplowed.”

A spokesman for the governor said Rell “remains committed to a property-tax cap, because she believes very strongly that it is the only way to ensure that property-tax relief gets to taxpayers, rather than municipal officials.”

The cap is “an idea whose time has come,” said the spokesman, Rich Harris.

That's the same message DeStefano and many of the city mayors have been preaching about a wholesale realignment of the state's tax system, though the New Haven mayor acknowledged with a rueful grin that it had not helped him in his landslide loss to Rell in 2006.

Pressed by reporters about the likelihood of real change, DeStefano smiled.

“What I think is going to be different is people are going to start losing elections over this,” he said.



Property tax cap gets another look

Stamford ADVOLCATE 
By Brian Lockhart, Staff Writer
Published October 15 2007

A bipartisan committee last week launched its examination of whether the state should limit municipal property tax increases.

"The governor and Office of Policy and Management are still very much interested in pursuing this cap to provide our local taxpayers with some form of relief," committee co-chairman Michael Cicchetti said.

Cicchetti is the deputy secretary of OPM, the state's budget office. His co-chairman is state Rep. Cameron Staples, D-New Haven, chairman of the legislature's Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee. 
Earlier this year, OPM and Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell proposed capping the increase in a municipality's annual tax levy at 3 percent.  Rell tied the cap to her two-year budget, which proposed $3.4 billion in school aid. She said the increased education funding should take pressure off municipal budgets, and she wanted to find a means of passing the savings on to residents.

But when Rell and the Democratic-majority General Assembly reached a budget deal in the summer, the cap was not part of it. Democrats said she waited too long to unveil such a complicated proposal and many dismissed it as a political stunt that would hurt cities and towns.  As a compromise, the parties agreed to study the proposal further, and Rell and legislative leaders nominated a Property Tax Cap Commission. The group held its organizational meeting Tuesday at the capitol and will report its findings in January.

Cicchetti said Rell's proposal has not changed. Cities and towns could exceed the 3 percent cap with a two-thirds vote of their local governing bodies and a majority vote of residents. Exceptions would be made for emergencies, and the cap would not apply to municipal debt service.  Rell and OPM are open to other ideas, Cicchetti said, and he hopes to explore those through the commission.

"I think her proposal certainly is a good place for us to start," Cicchetti said.

A public hearing on Rell's proposal was held May 5 by the General Assembly's Finance Committee. Fewer than half of the 56 members attended.  A few experts testified, including officials from Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which enacted caps of their own. Some said the caps held down spending growth and provided property tax relief, while others said they cost needed services.

State Sen. William Nickerson, R-Greenwich, who serves on the commission, believes the cap is a poor idea that should not be adopted.  A ranking Republican on the legislature's Finance Committee, Nickerson is skeptical the task force will find new information to persuade lawmakers to reconsider.

"One of the longest, in-depth hearings we had in the Finance Committee this last session was on this topic," he said. "We had a tremendous outpouring of information, all of which was useful. We had many speakers, public and private."

Nickerson said he remains convinced that a "one-size-fits-all cap" does not work in a state such as Connecticut with very rich and very poor municipalities and plenty of people in between.  The state has a poor track record of keeping financial commitments to cities and towns, he said, which is a key component of making the tax caps work.  But Cicchetti remained optimistic.

"We can't do this unilaterally, so the commission was set up to glean some common ground and find a solution that meets our needs," he said.

As part of the budget agreement, state officials also will examine three tax policies left on the cutting room floor last session: Phasing out the inheritance tax, establishing an earned-income tax credit for the working poor and collecting taxes on Internet sales.


State's tax system criticized
ROB VARNON rvarnon@ctpost.com
Article Last Updated: 10/11/2007 10:01:23 PM EDT

Calling for an end to tax subsidies in its annual report on business competitiveness, the Washington, D.C.-based Tax Foundation touched off a philosophical conflict with a former Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development commissioner.

In its annual report ranking the states' business tax climates, foundation researcher and former Connecticut resident Curtis Dubay said, "If you have to offer tax incentives to attract business, there's something wrong with your tax system." He added all states do it, but if they would stop giving out incentives and instead lower taxes, they would actually collect from a bigger base of payers.

Joseph McGee, vice president of public policy for The Business Council of Fairfield County and a former DECD commissioner, said that thinking is wrong.

McGee pointed to two examples — UBS in Stamford and Remington Shaver in Bridgeport — where incentives helped the state. In the UBS case, Connecticut didn't have much of that kind of financial industry 10 years ago; now it has more than 7,000 jobs because of incentives that helped the company relocate from New York. In the Remington case, the shaver maker was looking to leave Bridgeport during an economic slowdown in manufacturing. But the state cut a deal to keep the company here for 10 years, keeping a large number of workers off the welfare rolls, which would have driven up state costs, McGee said. The hope was to preserve those jobs until the economy picked up, he said. Remington did close in 2004, but McGee said the deal delayed that shutdown.

The use of incentives has to be done carefully, according to McGee, because some companies will try to abuse them.  While McGee was critical of the foundation's stance on incentives, he said the actual report on taxes is valuable and should be sparking action in the Legislature.

"No one can defend the increasing tax burden in Connecticut," he said. "Property tax reform is long overdue."

For the fifth year in a row, Connecticut earned the dubious honor of having the worst property tax system in the country, according to the Tax Foundation.  The foundation's report said Connecticut ranked 38th overall. Rhode Island had the worst overall ranking in the nation; New Hampshire, with the seventh best system, had the highest ranking for any state in the Northeast.

McGee said the combination of rising taxes and other expenses is making the state less competitive by driving workers out. Connecticut's taxes are lower than its neighbors, he said, but when you start piling on other expenses, such as housing, it drives young workers to places like Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

Connecticut's property tax problems are largely related to its estate tax, Dubay said.

Michael Jodon, a partner with Shelton-based accounting firm Nishball, Carp, Niedermeier, Pacowta & Co., said Connecticut's estate tax does sneak up on a lot of people.  Basically, an estate incurs no taxes as long as its total value is less than $2 million, he said. After crossing the $2 million mark, the taxes rise to as much as 15.2 percent.

"It adds up relatively quickly," he said because estates include real estate, businesses, equipment stocks and other holdings.

McGee and Jodon agreed the tax is unfair.  Why this might be drawing concern from the Tax Foundation is what happens when there's a family business involved, Jodon said.

"Dad's business has value," he said. "That value is treated just like a house or publicly traded stock."

And it's not like the son can just pay the taxes on the business, Jodon said. The taxes come out of the entire estate, so that might require liquidating part of it. In effect, the son might have to buy the gift outright. 
Jodon said his firm provides estate planning services to deal with this situation and there are many ways to avoid placing the estate in a situation where it has to be liquidated out from under the family.



Taxpayers Need State Makeover
DAY
By Paul Choiniere  
Published on 6/17/2007
 
A couple of popular television shows provide the opportunity for a “complete makeover.”

In one show appearance-challenged individuals are transformed through the miracle of modern plastic surgery.

Another show features the complete redesign of homes by an army of construction workers, plumbers, electricians and other tradesmen. They outfit the chosen home with all the modern amenities and add special touches to meet the family's needs and interests.

Connecticut government could likewise use a complete makeover.

Having lived in Connecticut for 32 years I can see that its reputation as the land of steady habits is well deserved. One steady habit is the sanctity of home rule.

Each town and city is responsible for educating the children within its borders, providing for the public safety of its townspeople and offering various other services. Municipalities in Connecticut have basically two sources for the revenues needed to provide for those needs — income from property taxes and the largesse of the state.

The greatest strength of this system is that local control tends to be frugal control. The smaller the government bureaucracy, the less likely wasteful spending will be tolerated.

But this local-only approach to governing has plenty of drawbacks as well. It is often inefficient. The region has multiple emergency dispatch centers, for example, when one or two could serve all of southeastern Connecticut. Every town, big or small, has a school superintendent and administration though, at least in some cases, one superintendent could oversee the administration of several schools in multiple towns.

If not for home rule there would certainly be other services that could be shared by towns. Savings could also be achieved in the purchase of supplies by combining the buying power of several towns.

The dependence on the property tax system to meet these local needs creates inequities. Homeowners in towns with large commercial tax bases enjoy lower taxes and better services. Often this is the function of a location near highways and having land available for development.

Conversely, small, bedroom communities with little commercial tax base can offer their citizens few services. Cities, which have limited amounts of land still available for new development, are hard pressed to provide needed services without overburdening property taxpayers.

Towns compete for the shopping centers and other developments needed to raise property tax money, leading to poor land-use choices.

A complete makeover would involve some form of county government. The region, rather than just individual towns, could benefit from the large commercial taxpayers. Projects could be built where they make sense, not where they are desired to raise tax revenues for one town. Economies of scale could be realized.

While a complete makeover is unlikely, towns can search for opportunities where regional cooperation makes sense. The state budget proposal, which this past week was still being negotiated between the governor and legislature, would provide financial incentives for towns to undertake regional projects.

Towns and cities may soon have no choice. Homeowners are reaching the property tax breaking point.

Old habits have to change.

Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor of The Day.



Rell Plays To Voters In Budget Tug-Of-War 
DAY editorial
By Morgan McGinley
Published on 4/1/2007
 
Gov. Jodi Rell has just proven she's an equal opportunity employer. Her new budget presented in February stunned members of her own Republican Party in the legislature because it called for raising income taxes to fund large increases in state education aid to local communities.

The GOP legislators in the General Assembly were outraged at the idea of tax increases from the Republican governor the people of the state had just elected by a huge margin three months earlier. What was Jodi Rell thinking of?

But her opponents for governor, Democratic Mayors John DeStefano Jr. in New Haven and Dannel Malloy in Stamford enthusiastically greeted the news. They said Rell had shown courage by addressing simultaneously the long-standing issues of enhanced state aid for education and property tax reform. So did a lot of Democratic legislators.

Not to worry, Republicans. Rell has now reversed the fortunes of the partisans. She surprised Democrats by coupling the education funding increase with a means to limit local property taxes. She said that she wants a state law providing that local property taxes cannot be increased more than 3 percent a year unless there is a grand list increase exceeding 1.5 percent, exclusive of a revaluation.

The governor quickly added three other key ingredients: the 3-per cent limit would exclude the cost of debt service during the life of the bonds; a community could override the spending limit with a two-thirds vote of its legislative body and a simple majority vote by its taxpayers; a two-thirds vote of the legislative body and approval by the state would allow a community to exceed 3 percent during emergencies such as natural disasters or fires.

Rell had barely outlined her plan when House Speaker James Amann announced that the plan was dead on arrival and called it “mumbo jumbo” that would create chaos in local communities. Wars would break out in many towns and cities over the referendum provision, he predicted.

Speaker Amann's rhetoric suggests that Gov. Rell, having surprised the Republicans before, has now pricked the sensitive outer skin of the Democrats with a plan that outmaneuvers them strategically. Democrats have a huge majority in the House, but Speaker Amann's excessive reaction does not take into account how the people of Connecticut are likely to feel. That is to say, Rell has appealed to the desires of local communities in every nook and cranny of Connecticut for property tax relief at the same time that she pledges much more state aid for location education.

What's not to like?

Rell points out that property taxes have been rising at a rate of nearly 6 percent a year for the past five years in Connecticut, so that this state's property tax burden now is second only to New Jersey's. Moreover, property taxes in Connecticut are 85 percent above the national average, a somewhat misleading figure because the state has very expensive housing.

Still the argument's merits grow. Forty-three states already have some form of property tax and/or local government spending limitation, including 29 with a limit on property tax increases.

“Most of the time I am not partisan,” Rell said. “My belief is that this is the right thing and that, I hope, is reaching through to the legislature.

Rell, on Thursday, talked to editorial writers about the perennial noise at the Capitol about increasing state aid for local education, yet there's no progress. “No one has a plan on the table to make that happen. I have now given the legislature a golden opportunity, I believe.”

The governor said the state must close the large gap in achievement between lower-income children and those in many other schools. “This new money has to be spent achieving those goals. We want real accountability goals,” she said.

The governor knew she had trumped the opposition when she said Thursday that, “The legislators know how important this is. ...The public understands this.”

Speaker Amann and his counterpart in the Senate, Democratic President Pro Tempore Don Williams, are almost certain to come up with their own plans challenging the governor's proposal. But if their ideas are to win the day, they must necessarily capture the appealing parts of Rell's plan that has both politics and practicality behind it.



Real Property Tax Reform 

DAY editorial
Published on 3/31/2007

 
Gov. M. Jodi Rell has issued the Democratic majority in the state legislature a challenge: Stop talking about increased state aid for education and property tax relief and do something about it.

The popular Republican governor has provided her plan. In February she called on the legislature to keep the promise it made in 1999 and begin financing half the cost of local education. She would pay for that with an increase in the income tax.

Gov. Rell unveiled the second part of her plan this past week, calling for property taxes to be capped at 3 percent annually except for clearly defined exceptions.

The plan is brilliant in its simplicity.

For years, town officials have complained that education costs were forcing property taxes ever higher. The Rell initiative would pump more than $3 billion in additional funding to the schools. That influx of cash should address education needs without continuing to drive up property taxes.

To make sure the state's largesse translates into property tax relief, Gov. Rell proposed the 3 percent cap in local spending increases.

Democratic candidates have called for increased school aid and property tax relief in the last two gubernatorial elections. Strange then that the party's leaders in the legislature — House Speaker James A. Amann and Senate President Donald E. Williams — would dismiss the governor's proposal out of hand.

Speaker Amann considers the governor's proposal “dead on arrival” while Sen. Williams sniffed that it was “not well thought out” and is “probably not going to get much serious thought.”

What pomposity.

And where is their plan for property tax relief?

Gov. Rell, who seems to have a personal relationship with the citizens of Connecticut that is rare among politicians, has gone right to the heart of the matter. Citizens are tired of paying ever-higher property taxes. And they are tried of excuses why local spending cannot be controlled. Three percent is a reasonable limit. There is no reason local governments cannot live within such a cap, particularly given increased school funding. Twenty-nine other states limit property tax growth.

For the second straight session, Gov. Rell is also calling for phasing out the car tax up to a $30,000 value on a given vehicle and using slot-machine revenues to replace the tax revenues towns and cities would lose. The proposal makes sense in the context of the overall tax reform the governor espouses.

Rather than dismissing the governor's proposals, the Democratic majority should use them as a great jumping off point for negotiations. The public should demand they do so. Gov. Rell has said she would welcome a dialogue.

There is certainly room for debate. To pay for her education funding initiative, Gov. Rell has called for an across-the-board increase in the top income tax rate, the one most workers pay, from 5 percent to 5.5 percent. Some Democrats would opt instead for a more progressive system, with a higher rate for higher-income earners.

Municipal officials fear the state will impose the cap, but later cut state aid for education and other state grants. The law could be written so that the cap would be adjusted, or lifted, if state aid is reduced.

The public could play a big role in how this plays out. If state citizens react with a collective yawn to Gov. Rell's proposal, then the Democratic leadership can be expected to conduct business as usual, blustering about property tax relief, but doing nothing about it.

If, however, the public demands action, lawmakers will find it difficult to ignore the Rell initiative, and perhaps change can come through a coalition of minority Republicans and willing Democrats.

The time for talk is over.



It's time to act on local property tax reform
Norwalk HOUR Op-Ed
Woody Bliss
February 13, 2007

For several years, there has been considerable discussion about the need to reform the local property tax system. Through it all, the one clear message is that the current system unduly burdens municipalities. It is overwhelming to long-term residential and business property owners.

Unfortunately, no action has been taken to reform the system, leaving cities and towns struggling to budget appropriately for essential services such as road repairs and public education.

Again this year, state leaders have been talking about property tax reform. Indeed, this is encouraging. But what residents really need at this point is for state leaders to put plans on the table and come up with the tax relief our community deserves.

With this in mind, and mindful of the fact that state finances are in good shape, our lawmakers should make tax reform a top priority for the 2007 session of the General Assembly.

There are many ways to reform the system. One solution is to ease the burden by employing several measures suggested by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.

To start, the state should make permanent the present real estate conveyance tax rates. At the same time, state leaders should restore funding to municipal aid programs that were cut in previous tough-budget years. The cuts in recent years have done nothing but stress municipal budgets to the breaking point and hamstring public schools with reduced budgets.
To this end, the state should pay its fair share of funding the cost of public education from kindergarten through grade 12. To achieve this, the state should focus on fully funding the Education Cost Sharing grant formula and reimbursing municipalities for at least 50 percent of special education costs statewide.

At the same time, the state should relieve our communities of the financial burden that comes with unfunded state mandates. It is important that state lawmakers fully fund these mandates and enact a statutory prohibition against new unfunded mandates, unless there is a two-thirds vote of each cham- ber of the state legislature.

Incidentally, raising either the Connecticut state income tax or the Connecticut state sales tax is not an acceptable solution.

In addition, the time has come for the state to take action that will help curb sprawl development. Our lawmakers should encourage regional decision-making by creating incentives for the establishment of regional enhanced land-use and revenue-sharing authorities in each of the state's planning regions. In addition, state leaders should find a way to strengthen state-local planning capabilities for land use. This would give communities better control over development and allow each community to contribute to curbing sprawl development.

Besides these pressing matters, there are several others the 2007 General Assembly should address with an eye toward strengthening the future of our state.

Lawmakers should help municipalities meet Connecticut's clean water needs by providing adequate funding through the Clean Water Fund. The state should also look to improve our infrastructure by increasing funding to the Local Capital Improvement Program, the Urban Action Program, the Small Town Economic Assistance Program, Town Aid Roads, school construction grants, and conversion of public buildings to alternative energy.

State lawmakers should also address funding for preservation of open space and agricultural land, and for remediation of brownfield properties. Lawmakers should also be encouraged to build on recent transportation investments in mass transit and highway expansion and explore revenue sources that have worked in other states and countries, such as electronic user fees and public-private partnerships.

The time for reports, forums, studies and discussions has passed. The problems and the issues have all been studied. Clearly the time has come for our state leaders to act. I urge them to make this the year that we give local property taxpayers a new system that will meet the budgetary demands of our cities and towns
.

Woody Bliss is the first selectman of Weston, chairman of the Southwest Regional Planning Agency Metropolitan Planning Organization and a member of the Board of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities. The views expressed are his personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of the above organizations.

Property-taxed To Death 
By Day Editorial Staff Writer  
Published on 2/12/2007

Homeowners in Connecticut have the dubious honor of living in a state that is ranked No. 3 from the top for the amount of money people pay for their homes in property taxes.

According to the nonprofit group Tax Foundation, the median property taxes paid in the state for single-family homes was $3,865 last year, surpassed only by New Hampshire, at $3,920, and New Jersey, coming in tops at $5,352.

Want to get away from this?

Try Louisiana, dead last at $175, or Alabama, where the median was $302.  

The Dreadful Property Tax
DAY editorial
Published on 4/9/2006
 
Doris Jennings' experience exemplifies what's wrong with the Connecticut property tax. Ms. Jennings is a retired schoolteacher who inherited a cottage on the waterfront in Groton Long Point, where she has vacationed with her family since she was a little girl during the Depression. We should all have such nice places to live. But that isn't the point.
Ms. Jennings, while she lives comfortably, isn't wealthy. At 74, she lives on modest annuities, her late husband's Social Security from a career as a salesman and a small pension from 11 years of teaching after his death (the Social Security is subtracted from her pension). She says her property taxes, nearly $10,000 this year, are a strain on her fixed income. She has had to dip into her savings and has considered going into debt to pay her taxes.

The sort of squeeze she's in has ignited a taxpayer revolt in shoreline neighborhoods up and down the New England coast. Some of the self-proclaimed victims of the property tax are high-income. But others, like the Chaffee family in Noank, whose situation is also profiled in this section, aren't.

Dawn and Charles Chaffee live in a house passed down in Dawn Chaffee's family of Noank fishermen and shipyard workers for three generations. Their property taxes have escalated because their house occupies what originally was a commercial fishermen's neighborhood but has become a highly desirable spot for people vastly better off financially than the Chaffees. It requires his income as a firefighter and hers in a part-time job to pay the taxes, which were more than $6,000 last year.

Escalating property taxes aren't limited to pricey neighborhoods along the waterfront, either. Tax assessments track the whimsy of the real estate market, soaring wherever the demand for real estate is the greatest. The market, and therefore the tax, disregards the taxpayer's ability to pay. A decade ago, the effect was felt the greatest in luxury housing in shoreline communities, as a supercharged stock market generated large amounts of wealth and fueled a housing boom in expensive first and second homes along the shore. Caught in the middle were not only well-to-do families, but pensioners and working families of modest means like the Chaffees, who woke up one day to find themselves in fancy neighborhoods where they couldn't afford to live if they were buying their homes today.

Working families under pressure

Those pressures along the waterfront have moderated, but new inflationary dynamics have arisen at bottom of the housing ladder, in “affordable housing,” as the supply of lowerend homes and apartments falls short of the demand from the growing number of casino workers. This has caused property taxes to shoot up for mobile homes, condominiums and small houses in working-class neighborhoods like Groton's Poquonnock Bridge. Families that succeed in getting over the hurdle of securing mortgages for these homes still have to contend with escalating property taxes.

These homeowners are the people who, through nothing they've done to improve their financial situations, wind up paying a larger share of the taxes for schools and local services. For with the property tax, not everyone's taxes rise at the same rate when the real estate tide comes in. Some go up, some stay put and some go down. This variation in real estate values shifts the tax burden to owners of the hottest real estate at any one time.

In recent years, the property-tax burden in Groton has been shifting from business and industrial properties to homes where the greatest inflation of values was taking place, from businesses like Pfizer and Electric Boat, to taxpayers like Doris Jennings and Charles and Dawn Chaffee. The bar graph on the cover of this section shows the stunning climb of home assessments compared to industrial and business assessments. That phenomenon occurs because business property hasn't turned over rapidly and appreciated in value, and taxable business equipment that isn't exempt from taxes for one reason or another actually depreciates in value.

The very whimsy of the property tax and the fact that its crests and valleys reflect market forces, not personal wealth, make it unfair. But that's not all that's wrong with it. Critics also accurately point out that the levy taxes “unrealized gains.” Most capital gains are taxed when the equity changes hands and the owner benefits from the sale. With the property tax, homeowners are taxed on paper value they've never cashed in. Just picture having to pay taxes on capital gains on stocks you've never sold.

The unreasonableness of the tax is compounded every time the local government elevates the tax rate, or a revaluation redistributes the tax burden from certain groups of taxpayers to others.

Leaders lax on tax reform

Yet Connecticut's elected leaders not only have failed to take significant steps to relieve the burden on this flawed tax state law has condemned local governments to rely upon. Policymakers in Hartford have added to the burden placed on the property tax by reneging on Connecticut's financial commitments to towns and cities and by declining to take up tax reform. Statewide, nearly two-thirds of the money spent on public education and local services comes from the property tax.

An earlier special section on the Editorial Page pointed to the physical damage caused by the property tax, the devouring of farmland and woodlands for development that results from land-use policies driven purely by the need to build local property-tax bases. This section, in explaining how the tax works in one town, underscores the social damage from the tax and the basic injustice of it. The tax threatens to drive people out of homes simply because their neighborhoods have become sought-after places to live.

Leaders in the state Capitol are on the verge of having wasted another legislative session by ignoring comprehensive tax reform. The best this community of “experts” could produce was Gov. M. Jodi Rell's bill to repeal the automobile tax, an annoying but miniscule part of the problem with the property tax.

The tax system calls for a plan more courageous and visionary than that. Tax reform must protect taxpayers from the threat of losing their homes to the property tax. It needs to significantly shift the tax burden to a fairer tax or set of taxes. It needs to bring the levy under control before it does more damage to the state and its populace.

Fortunately, the taxpayers are starting to figure this stuff out and some are becoming experts on their own, thanks to computer spreadsheets and a measure of anger. And the more the public learns about the inner workings of this medieval tax system, the better they will see through the shell games the politicians in Hartford engage in every year, pretending they're going to reform the system when they aren't.



Rell Plan Pressures Democrats;   They Want Wider Property Tax Reform, But Lack Proposal

By MARK PAZNIOKAS, Courant Staff Writer
February 12, 2006

Gov. M. Jodi Rell's surprise proposal to eliminate the property tax on cars opened the door to a broader debate on a favorite topic for Democrats: a complete overhaul of the property tax system.

But the Democratic majority was caught flat-footed by Rell, having started the legislative session Wednesday without any property tax plan despite a half-dozen studies on the issue since 1972, including one commissioned in 2002.

Until the Republican governor offered to redirect $500 million in state revenue to municipalities to replace the tax on non-commercial vehicles, the idea was not on the Democratic agenda for 2006.

"Quite frankly, we never thought it would be possible to get something past the governor that would cost $500 million in terms of providing property tax relief," said Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn.

For the second time in two years, Rell has co-opted an issue that Democrats like to discuss but never quite bring to a resolution. Only after Rell demanded campaign reforms last year did the Democrats act on their oft-expressed desire to restrict special-interest influence and create a system to publicly finance campaigns.

On Wednesday, Rell stunned them with a car-tax proposal that she had kept under wraps even from other Republicans and senior staff until shortly before she delivered her State of the State address.

By Thursday, Democrats had recovered sufficiently to raise questions about the fairness of her plan and to grasp the fact that, once again, Rell has challenged them to deliver on an old promise.

Some legislators flatly predict that the Democrats will be unable to build a consensus in their own ranks on tax reform before the three-month session ends May 3.

"I don't think in this session that anything more comprehensive than the car tax is possible politically or practically," said House Minority Leader Robert M. Ward, R-North Branford.

History is on Ward's side.

As the non-partisan Office of Legislative Research observed in 1998, "Most states have studied the property tax to death, but all have shied away from overhauling or repealing it."

To provide significant relief most probably would require a shift to the state's two workhorse taxes - the income tax and sales tax. The political danger is that one constituent's tax cut could be another's tax increase.

Rell already is getting a taste of that phenomenon. Because her proposal would be funded, in part, by eliminating the existing property tax credit, Democrats say her plan is merely a "shell game." The credit allows taxpayers with incomes as high as $190,500 to deduct up to $350 in property taxes on homes and motor vehicles from their state income tax payments; the cap will rise to $400 next year.

Bill Curry, who made property-tax relief a central theme of his Democratic gubernatorial campaigns in 1994 and 2002, said there is another reason Democrats do better at talking about reform than achieving it: The issue is complicated, requiring hard work and political leadership.

Curry compared property-tax reform to universal health care, an issue that helped carry Bill Clinton to the White House, but then proved too difficult to enact.

"Clinton could give the new Democratic health care speech in his sleep, but no one had written the new Democratic health care plan," said Curry, who worked in the Clinton White House after the 1994 election. "There is no substitute for homework."

In October 2003, the Blue Ribbon Commission on Property Tax Burdens and Smart Growth Incentives issued a 59-page report that had been commissioned by the General Assembly the previous year.

"These recommendations are designed to jumpstart a long-overdue and serious discussion among state and local policymakers, business interests, the media, general public, and other stakeholders on what public policy initiatives should be pursued," the commission said.

Instead, they quickly disappeared from public view, though the commission's chairman is almost certain to spend some time talking about the issue this summer. He is New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., one of the two Democratic contenders for governor.

The property tax long has been attacked as a regressive levy that encourages suburban sprawl, since development is the only way for municipalities to grow their tax bases.

It is the biggest piece of the combined state and local tax structure, generating 40 percent of all tax revenue, compared to 29 percent for the income tax and 20 percent for the sales tax.

Connecticut's property tax burden is the third highest in the nation on a per-capita basis, and no state is more reliant on the tax to fund its public schools.

In her budget, Rell called for a cut in the corporate income tax to help improve the business climate, but businesses pay far more taxes on property than corporate income: $1.6 billion vs. $445 million.

In a poll conducted in 2002 for the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, 47 percent of residents identified the property tax as the one they would most like to reduce, far more than those who named the income tax (23 percent), the gas tax (17 percent) or the sales tax (10 percent.)

Curry said the issue has an appeal that has grown since he first ran for governor in 1994.

"It's been a mystery to me why the leadership of my party has not more taken this issue to heart," Curry said. "The public support for it is overwhelming and has grown tremendously since 1994."

The car tax that Rell would eliminate represents less than 10 percent of the total property tax levy of about $6 billion, according to the blue ribbon report.

Rell and her staff were unable last week to say precisely who would benefit most from eliminating the car tax: urban renters who pay high property taxes on their cars? Upper income suburbanites who make too much to qualify for the present property-tax credit, but would get a windfall if the car-tax disappeared?

"We need to address the governor's proposal. We want to do that in a good-faith way, but we want to do it in a way where we don't give up our obligation to scrutinize this, to hold it up to the light and say, `Is it real? Is it fair?' And if it's not fair, then to reveal that and to fix it," Williams said.

Republicans wildly applauded Rell's proposal but are concerned by one aspect: The tax relief fund would not count against the state cap on spending.

The Democrats belatedly realized that if Rell will place $500 million outside the cap for property tax relief, she has no philosophical argument against a more ambitious plan.

"Now that the governor has said that she would be open to this kind of expense, to this kind of initiative, that puts in play a real debate about real tax reform, including property tax reform," Williams said. "Who would have thought that was possible?"

Now, all they need is a plan.

"We need to have some concrete proposal of our own," said Rep. Cameron Staples, D-New Haven, the co-chairman of the finance, revenue and bonding committee. "You can't beat something with nothing."


Pitting Town Vs. Town:  Nationwide, towns rely on property taxes for less than half of their budgets. But not here.
DAY editorial
Published on 1/4/2006

Every now and then, an example comes along that illustrates why New England's reliance upon the property tax for a high percentage of local revenues is a continuing problem.

A Day article recently reported that a Griswold official was worried that potential property development across from Lisbon Landing on Route 12 could siphon off national retailers that, it was hoped, might get interested in Griswold. The Stott property on Route 164 in Griswold, only a mile or two away from Lisbon Landing, might suffer if certain big-box stores went to Lisbon instead.

Although Griswold officials stressed that Lisbon is free to do what it feels is best for the town, few could blame town officials if they were concerned. Every town is under enormous pressure to raise its own revenues and seeking more property taxes is the natural result.

And that's the problem.

The concern about raising ever-increasing local revenue from property taxes pits town against town, fosters indiscriminate development pressures and serves to dissuade any municipality from thinking regionally about these issues.  Put simply, when it comes to development, it doesn't pay to be forbearing and generous. Fiscal survival is the name of the game.

This reliance on property taxes to run local towns and pay soaring local educational costs is far worse in New England than in any other region in the country. It holds us back.  For example, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, towns nationwide rely on local property taxes for an average of 45 percent of the locally raised revenues included in their budgets.

In New England, it's much higher. Only Maine towns, on average, depend upon property taxes for less than 70 percent of their revenues. And in Connecticut, on average, property taxes make up about 89 percent of the budgets of local towns.  So who could blame towns like Griswold if it worries about its ability to attract development? Every structure in place encourages competition, not cooperation.

That's why it is good that the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments is interested in studying the impact of development on the region. SECOG looked at this issue last year. Early efforts to involve the council of governments from Northeast Connecticut and Windham were rebuffed. Then, before the idea for a study could continue, the council put the plans on hold because all the region's effort went into keeping the submarine base in the area after the Pentagon targeted the base for closure.

Now that the sub base will remain open, the Council of Governments should move forward on this important study. Even assessing the simple impacts of development — on traffic, housing, the need for more workers, transportation — should make it clear how widespread is the impact of development on different towns. It's a small first step, albeit a vital one, toward thinking as a region on the issues of economic competition among the towns.

Real estate taxes vary widely by town
By Donna Porstner,Staff Writer, Stamford ADVOCATE
December 28, 2004

The owner of a home on Palmers Hill Road in Stamford paid $10,437 in real estate taxes this year -- nearly twice as much as his neighbors on the Greenwich side of the street paid on a comparable size property.

The tax rate in Stamford is nearly three times more than in Greenwich, so it's not surprising that four times as many Stamford residents said they pay too much in taxes.

Eighty percent of Stamford residents surveyed in an Advocate/Greenwich Time poll earlier this year said they pay "too much" in property taxes compared with 19 percent in Greenwich and 77 percent in Norwalk.

The overwhelming majority of Greenwich residents -- 74 percent -- said the amount they pay in taxes each year is "just right."

The poll was conducted by the University of Connecticut's Center for Survey Research and Analysis earlier this year. About 500 residents -- 167 each in Stamford, Greenwich and Norwalk -- were asked 59 quality of life questions in the telephone survey.

Norwalk Finance Director Tom Hamilton said it's not surprising Greenwich residents paying $11 in taxes for every $1,000 of assessed value would be more pleased than their counterparts in Norwalk and Stamford, who pay $27 to $29 per $1,000.

Looking at how much Greenwich residents pay as a percentage of the market value of their homes and their ability to pay, Hamilton said Greenwich's taxes are probably the lowest in the state.

Real estate taxes are determined by the tax rate, known as the mill rate, and the assessed value of the property.

But because of the astronomical home values in Greenwich -- where the average sales price of a home is just more than $2 million -- in actual dollars, most Greenwich residents pay more than residents of Stamford and Norwalk. On average, Greenwich property owners pay about $11,000 a year in taxes compared with an average of $5,500 per homeowner in Stamford and $5,100 in Norwalk.

Greenwich residents in modest homes would pay considerably more each year if their houses were elsewhere.

For example, the owner of a small three-bedroom ranch on a quarter-acre lot on Havemeyer Lane in Greenwich pays $2,900 a year in real estate taxes -- almost $500 less than the owner of an almost identical 1,000-square-foot home on Stillwater Avenue in Stamford.

Condominiums also tend to be taxed higher in the more urban communities. According to recent sales data, the taxes on a two-bedroom 1,300-square-foot condominium in Stamford and Norwalk are about $3,900 a year compared with about $2,400 a year for a similar size unit in Greenwich.

Jim Troy, a Stamford real estate agent who ran for the Board of Finance last year because he said he saw Stamford's rising property taxes becoming a turn-off for prospective home buyers, said his clients sometimes buy in wealthier towns such as New Canaan and Darien, where they pay less in taxes compared to the value of the home.

A listing he provided for a Cape Cod style-house on the market in the Riverside section of Greenwich for $799,000 placed the taxes at $3,500 a year, whereas the taxes on a similar-size Cape in Stamford listed at $589,000 are $5,000 a year.

Joseph Lobaido, the Palmers Hill Road resident paying nearly twice as much in taxes as his Greenwich neighbors, said he knew about the tax situation when he bought his 3,000-square-foot contemporary-style home in 1999.

"We really didn't want to come (to Stamford) because we saw the difference in taxes," he said.

Lobaido said he was so put off by Stamford's taxes that he and his wife looked in Greenwich for six months, getting dragged from house to house with outdated 1950s-era kitchens, before giving Stamford a look.

The choice, he said, was to pay a lot for a house in Greenwich in hopes they would get it back when they sold it, or buy a lower-priced home in Stamford and pay much higher taxes. Either way, they'd spend a lot of money.

The 61-year-old pharmacist said he was tired of working on houses, and they ultimately decided their money was better spent on a home in Stamford that needed no major repairs.

Randall Avery, a Rowayton resident on Norwalk's Board of Estimate and Taxation, said the dissatisfaction with property taxes in Norwalk is closely linked to dramatic tax increases residents have seen over the past four years. Because Norwalk delayed its 1993 tax revaluation until 1999, residents were taxed on the 1983 values of their homes until the new assessments went into effect in 2000.

Back in 1998, the average Norwalk homeowner was paying about $3,000 a year in taxes; while today that same homeowner is paying $5,000 to $6,000, Avery said.

"It's obvious why people are dissatisfied," he said. "These type of radical increases are not expected when municipal spending is increasing an average of 3 percent or 4 percent a year."

But city spending is not the culprit, Avery said.

Norwalk homeowners are paying a larger share of taxes today than in 1983 because the tax burden has shifted from commercial real estate to residential real estate, he said. Twenty years ago, 40 percent of the city's taxes were paid by homeowners. Today, Avery said, homeowners shoulder about 65 percent of Norwalk's tax burden.

In hindsight, he said, it may have been a mistake to load up Route 1 with big-box retail stores. Had office buildings gone up in their place, the city would have reaped more tax dollars because, unlike retail, office buildings also pay personal property taxes on computers and other equipment.

John Scannell, who's paying $15,420 a year in real estate taxes on his 4,900-square-foot home in the Shippan section of Stamford, said the amount he pays does not bother him as much as what he is getting -- or not getting -- for his money.

"The city services are pretty good. I don't mind paying a little extra for good service," he said. "But the education is important to a lot of people and I don't think we're getting bang for our buck there."

Scannell said it makes him angry to see Stamford's public schools get about $370 per student in education cost sharing grant funds from the state each year -- just a little more than the wealthier surrounding towns. Greenwich gets $246 per student in ECS funding, New Canaan gets $236 and Darien gets $233.

Scannell said it would be more equitable to share education expenses countywide rather than leaving the poorest, urban communities to fend for themselves.

"It seems like there should be a system in which wealth is transferred from wealthier parts of the state to other areas," he said.

A founding member of a Stamford taxpayer's association informally known by its Web site's address, stamfordtaxpayers.org, Scannell said it's obvious the wealthiest towns are a better bargain than the big cities, if you can afford to buy in.

"You didn't need a survey to know that people in Greenwich are getting a good deal and people in Stamford and Norwalk are not," he said.




Soaring property taxes elicit backlash among homeowners
By Dennis Cauchon, USA TODAY
Updated 8/24/2006 11:39 PM ET

Last summer, the booming area around Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, had 700 homes for sale. This year, 3,400 homes are on the market.  Realtor and anti-tax activist Sharon Culbreth says soaring property taxes are partly to blame for the glut.

"It's not just that the market is softening," she says. "Many people have put their houses on the market because they fear losing their homes. The old-timers are afraid they won't be able to pay property taxes that have doubled or tripled."

Anger over rising property taxes is reverberating in many states that do not already have strict limits. State legislatures and some local governments are starting to cut property taxes, often shifting the burden to the sales tax.

Fallout from property tax cuts is wide and complicated. The changes are shifting public school financing from locally controlled property taxes to state-controlled sales and income taxes.

The changes also are carving out new winners and losers. Tax exemptions are being expanded for the elderly, the disabled, veterans and people who have owned their homes for long periods. New Jersey is considering taxing business property at a higher rate than residential property, a practice some other states use.

The property tax is under fire in states that have high property taxes, such as New Jersey, and states that don't, such as Idaho. The rebellion is mostly in states that have had soaring home values, but it's also found in some states that haven't, such as Indiana.

An unpopular tax

"People hate the property tax because it's visible," says economist Andrew Chamberlain of the Tax Foundation, a research group in Washington, D.C. "One of the great ironies of tax policies is that people hate the tax that's easiest to see, not necessarily the one that costs them most." State and local governments collect more in sales taxes than in property taxes.

Idaho Gov. James Risch says he tells constituents that their state has some of the lowest property taxes in the nation. It ranked 36th last year. "The perception is otherwise," he says.

Risch has called a one-day special session of the Legislature today and says he has the votes to pass a controversial property tax cut. The state would raise the sales tax to 6% from 5% and use the extra money, plus some surplus funds, to eliminate the local property tax used for operations of public schools. Property taxes for building schools would remain.

"We have people coming to Idaho, buying property at high prices and driving up home prices," the governor says. "That's a good thing, in a way. But it's also causing home assessments to double and triple."

Gene Ealy, 80, of Coeur d'Alene, saw the assessment on his home rise 57% last year and 62% this year, reaching $355,000. His taxes didn't rise that much — many local governments shave a few cents off the tax rate when assessments rise rapidly — but they have had an impact.

"The value of our homes is being set by people moving in here that value our property a great deal higher than we do," he says. "It's deadly on fixed-income people."

Ealy has investments that will let him stay in his home, but he knows other elderly people who are being forced to sell.

Voter anger can be seen at the polls. In March, voters in Coeur d'Alene — a scenic tourist town of 40,000 — rejected a school property tax increase for the first time in 16 years.

Jim Smith, the elected property appraiser in Pinellas County, Fla., which includes St. Petersburg and Clearwater, says government spending is the problem, not higher property values. He says elected officials use higher assessments as a way to raise taxes without admitting it.

"It's the big lie," Smith says. "I'm fed up with them claiming they cut taxes because they lowered the tax rate, at the same time they're collecting more money because of higher assessments."

Weakening home sales and prices in many areas could slow the rise in assessments or even lower them, but it would be up to elected officials to pass on the property tax savings.

Every year, Florida property appraisers give local elected officials an estimate of what the tax rate should be so that taxes don't go up even if property values have, Smith says. It's called the rollback rate.

"If they don't want to spend more money, they can use the rollback rate," he says. "Of course, they never do. Instead, they get to have a tax increase while claiming they lower taxes."

Shifting tax burden

Dartmouth College economist William Fischel says support for the property tax has been undermined by court decisions that have required states to equalize spending between rich and poor school districts. He says homeowners resent their property taxes being sent to other communities. States are better off helping poor districts with money from statewide taxes, he says.

Fischel says the move away from local property taxes for funding schools is not good because research shows schools perform better when financial decisions are controlled at the local level.

Texas struggled for years with a "Robin Hood" property tax system that had affluent school districts send property tax money to poorer districts, part of an effort to satisfy a 1987 court decision. Earlier this year, Texas slashed property taxes and shifted financing for poor districts to cigarette taxes and other revenue sources.

Many New Jersey educators support reducing local property taxes and getting more state money for schools. That's partly because some local property taxes are diverted to 31 poor districts, and schools in New Jersey rely more on property taxes — the highest in the nation — than in other states.

"Shifting the burden from the property tax to a statewide tax would make it easier for many school districts to provide public education without burdening local taxpayers," says Frank Belluscio of the New Jersey School Boards Association.

In Idaho, however, many educators oppose the governor's proposal to have the state take over school funding.

Marilyn Howard, Idaho's elected superintendent of public instruction, fears a loss of local control and unreliable school funding in the future. "The property tax is a very stable source of revenue," she says. "The Legislature has said before that a higher sales tax or the lottery will be used for education, and then disbursed it for other spending."

Gov. Risch says schools have nothing to fear. "Education is the No. 1 priority of the Legislature."

 

Homeowners Deal With Rising Property Taxes
By JOHN PAIN, AP Business Writer
July 2, 2005

MIAMI - Teri Vasarhelyi and her husband thought they would be able to afford a bigger house with more land two years ago when they left San Francisco, the most expensive home market in the country.
 
They figured they found a good deal in a two-bedroom house in the peaceful, leafy Coconut Grove area for $440,000 in March 2004. But the shock came when their first property tax bill came a few months later — more than $9,200 a year, nearly double what they paid in their old home.

"That's an awful lot of money, on top of your mortgage, to find that cash," said Vasarhelyi, 35, who's taking time off from her advertising career to raise their baby.

Many people are running into similar problems, a side effect of the real estate boom. As home prices skyrocket, property taxes are also going up, especially in hot markets like Florida, California and the Northeast.

"Young families simply can't afford to live here. It's very difficult for police officers, firefighters, teachers and nurses," said Lori Parrish, the property appraiser in nearby Broward County, who has pushed for more property tax breaks.

First-time home buyers are especially running into trouble as wages adjusted for inflation haven't kept pace with real estate prices, and elderly residents on fixed incomes who have lived in their homes for decades are also struggling to pay ever-increasing taxes.

The national average annual property tax collection was $971 per person in 2002-2003, up 18 percent from $822 five years earlier, according to the latest figures available from the Tax Foundation, a research organization in Washington. The median home price nationwide rose to $170,000 in 2003 from $128,400 in 1998, according to the National Association of Realtors.

The most expensive states for property taxes were in the Northeast, with New Jersey topping out at $1,872 per person in 2002-2003. The cheapest state was Alabama at $329 per person.

While rising property taxes in theory should slow down the real estate market, that hasn't happened for two key reasons: "The popular belief that real estate is the best investment and the American willingness to spend a remarkably high fraction of their disposable income on housing," said foundation spokesman Bill Ahern.

Governments are still sensitive to complaints from homeowners. At least 48 states have tried to give homeowners relief from rising property taxes, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The methods include tax freezes, restricting property taxes to a percentage of the home's market value and caps on how much a home's assessed value can increase. Many states are considering expanding property tax relief.

But local governments are also wary of cutting back on what they collect — they get more than 95 percent of all property taxes. Altogether, American businesses and home-owners paid $296.7 billion in property taxes in 2002-2003, up from $279.1 billion in 2001-2002, according to the latest data from the U.S.     Census Bureau. Those numbers likely climbed even faster recently along with record-high home prices.

Property taxes pay for everything from schools and roads to police and fire departments. While they usually are collected by local governments, states generally write the laws that govern them.

"States are interested in keeping property taxes manageable at the same time they're balancing the delivery of public services demanded by citizens," said Bert Waisanen, fiscal analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Property tax relief varies widely from state to state, and even within them. A 2002 report by the legislative conference said that states are walking a tightrope to ensure that tax burdens are fair.

"(T)he relief provided to some may come at the expense of others," the report said.

California was a pioneer in easing the burden of property taxes. In 1978, voters there passed Proposition 13, which capped the increase in a home's taxable value at 2 percent a year until it is sold. It also limits a homeowners property tax to 1 percent of market value. Many other states followed with similar breaks, even though California's recurring budget crisis has been partly blamed on the initiative.

Forty-eight states also give home-owners a homestead exemption or credit, which allows them to deduct a certain amount from their home's taxable value.

But those rules aren't enough to keep taxes level.

It is also becoming more difficult for people to move because they usually lose out on property tax breaks when they do. For example, the previous owner of Vasarhelyi's house paid less because the increases in assessed values are capped in Florida at a maximum of 3 percent a year. But once the house is sold, that limit is lifted.

So what options do people have when the taxman comes calling?

"The biggest thing that any individual home-owner can do is to make sure that they aren't overassessed. The errors that take place in assessing properties are rampant," American Homeowners Association president Richard J. Roll said.

Some common errors are improper calculation of square footage and incorrect number of bathrooms or bedrooms, he said.  Only 2 percent of homeowners have challenged their assessment, but many more should because about 70 percent of those who do receive a reduction, Roll said.

"There are often tremendous disparities for no apparent reason," he said.



Grand List still tops in state at $34.4B
By Neil Vigdor, Greenwich TIME Staff Writer
Published: 09:39 p.m., Monday, February 1, 2010

What real estate slump?

The assessed value of all property in Greenwich rose by $238 million in 2009, according to the town's newly signed Grand List. Assessments equal 70 percent of a property's fair market value.

The three-quarters of a percent increase in the Grand List brought it up to $34.4 billion, which Assessor Ted Gwartney said is still tops in the state.

"I was happy to see that the Grand List did grow despite the fact that the amount of new construction was down quite a bit from prior years," said Gwartney, who signed the Grand List on Friday.

First Selectman Peter Tesei tempered his enthusiasm over the growth of the Grand List, however.

"Well, the reality is the Grand List isn't growing at the rate it once did," Tesei said. "In looking at future forecasts, we have to be sensitive to the fact that we may not see the rates of growth that we've seen in the past and that has a dramatic impact on the budget."

Residential assessments totaled $27.7 billion throughout town, representing just over 80 percent of the Grand List.

A 10-acre waterfront estate in the gated enclave of Field Point Circle earned the distinction as the most expensive property in town. The property owned by Stuart Baker and Leslie Schreyer is assessed at $24.1 million, according to Gwartney's office.

Commercial assessments totaled $4.2 billion, representing just over 12 percent of the Grand List.

Greenwich Plaza, a 2.8-acre office complex next to the train station and Interstate 95, maintained its perch atop the commercial category. The property is assessed at $157 million, according to the assessor's office.

All is not hunky-dory, however.

Gwartney noted that the assessed value of automobiles registered in town dropped nearly three and a quarter percent in one year, from $688 million to $666 million.

"It's because (people) were not buying new cars as much last year as they were in prior years," Gwartney said. "They were holding onto older cars that were continuing to depreciate."

Assessment officials rely on National Automobile Dealers Association-published appraisal guides to check the values of cars in most cases.

Property owners who feel their assessment is in error can meet with an appraiser on the assessor's staff.

They can then file a grievance with the Board of Assessment Appeals -- the deadline is Feb. 22.

Formal hearings will be held in March for aggrieved property owners, who can go to state Superior Court in Stamford if they are still unhappy.

A town-wide property revaluation, the first since 2005, is also being conducted this year.

Property owners should receive notices with their new assessments in November, at which time the town will hold informal hearings with those who have questions or concerns about their valuation.

Porricellis await their address fate
Greenwich TIME
By Neil Vigdor
Published November 30 2006

Jerry and Marianne Porricelli, the couple that claims they were disenfranchised by the town of Greenwich because their border property extends into Stamford, will likely learn their voting fate next week.

An eligibility panel of Greenwich officials reached a consensus yesterday on what to do with the well-known grocer and his wife, who are appealing their removal from the town's election rolls by the registrars of voters.

"I think we have a common understanding of the law as it applies," said First Selectman Jim Lash, one of four elected officials deciding the case.

Lash and the other members of the Board for Admission of Electors kept silent yesterday over the outcome of the case, saying they were waiting for town lawyers to draft the decision before taking a formal vote that could come as early as next week. The board's other members are Selectman Peter Crumbine, Selectman Penny Monahan and Town Clerk Carmella Budkins.

The couple's lawyer has said the registrars told his clients in writing they could vote in Greenwich at their current 9 Hillcrest Park Road address when they were considering buying the property in 2000.

He accused the registrars of going back on their word when they notified the couple 10 months later that they were not considered "bona fide" residents because a majority of their border property is in Stamford, including their house. State law requires citizens to be bona fide residents of the community where they vote, but does not define the term.

The couple, who voted as Greenwich residents from their current address in 2000, 2003, 2004 and 2005, also has challenged the residency standards used by the registrars. They say the postmaster recognizes their address as an Old Greenwich one and that they pay motor vehicle and some property taxes to the town.

Jerry Porricelli also has run for and served twice as a Representative Town Meeting member. The couple, which has roots in town dating back 30 years, owns the Food Mart supermarkets in Cos Cob and Old Greenwich.

A lawyer for registrars Sharon Vecchiolla and Veronica Baron Musca has urged the panel to use common sense, saying that the couple's dwelling is entirely in Stamford.

But the couple's lawyer has challenged the residency standards applied by the registrars, saying municipalities wield considerable discretion over voting eligibility. He also cited a 2005 state Elections Enforcement Commission ruling that dismissed a complaint brought against the Porricellis by the registrars alleging that they misstated their town of residence when applying to vote.

Porricelli pays about $470 per year in real estate taxes to Greenwich, where less than a tenth (1,742 square feet) of his 1-acre property is. The remaining $19,000 in real estate taxes go to Stamford.

The ramifications of a residency battle
Greenwich TIME editorial
Published November 21 2006

On its surface, the case of a well-known community grocer and his wife who are fighting to vote in Greenwich seems to be an insignificant matter unique to Greenwich. But the broad themes are of concern to every town and city, and most municipalities confront them periodically, if not regularly.

Municipal borders can create properties that have a yard or driveway in one city or town and house in another. Sometimes, the house itself straddles the boundary line. A planned 195-unit housing development on the Greenwich-Stamford border is only the latest project to bring the subject to mind.

Most of us consider a foot in each community to be a novel curiosity, but it also has practical implications for the property owner. The various legal authorities -- the U.S. Postal Service, school system, tax collector, dogcatcher, voting officials -- use their own standards to determine residency, and they can come down on opposite sides of the question. That can cause problems for property owners who identify strongly with the community they call home -- its schools, local government, parks, community centers and, yes, even its cachet -- but are told that the authority sees it otherwise. When the property owner is especially intimate with one community, as a business person or as a resident, the matter can be personal and the stakes can become high.

So it is with Jerry and Marianne Porricelli of Food Mart grocery store fame. They have lived on the Greenwich-Stamford border since 2000, pay the lion's share of their real property taxes to Stamford, but have an Old Greenwich street address and register cars in Greenwich. Mr. Porricelli twice has been elected to the Greenwich Representative Town Meeting and is very active within the town through his two family-owned Food Mart stores in the Cos Cob and Old Greenwich neighborhoods.

As far as he is concerned, the couple lives in Greenwich and should vote there. The argument apparently goes beyond sentiment. In 2000, Greenwich registrars staff told the Porricellis in writing that they could vote in Greenwich if they bought the house, according to their attorney, Alan Neigher. Ten months later, Mr. Neigher claims, the registrars went back on their word and notified the Porricellis that they were not bona fide Greenwich residents because most of their property is in Stamford. The couple has voted numerous times using the Greenwich address since 2000, but the issue has resurfaced with practically every election.

State election law does not define "bona fide" resident, leaving it to individual municipalities to decide. And an attorney for the two Greenwich registrars says his clients are nothing if not consistent. "I know there are other properties which the registrars have looked at, which have Greenwich addresses, some on the same road as the Porricellis, where the residences are not in the town of Greenwich, and these people are not registered as voters," said attorney William Kupinse.

An on-paper assurance from the registrars could make a difference for the Porricellis. A decision from Greenwich's three selectmen and the town clerk is expected shortly, but an appeal always is possible. A judge is responsible for the classic standard of residency being determined by where a person sleeps. In another famous case involving Norwalk and New Canaan, a judge ruled that where a child attended school was the overriding factor.

While the decision in the Porricelli case ought to be left to those who know the many details, a few general points seem obvious.

The question of when and if registrars should issue written assurances about residency is one of them. If municipal officials can't or won't stand behind these documents, then they should not be provided at all. Similarly, if they are to be made available to families like the Porricellis, then others deserve to have them, too. Families who go house-hunting along municipal borders and have definite feelings about where they want vote or attend school ought to get assurances before signing on the dotted line.

While the specifics of each case can vary widely, it's important that municipal officials use the same standards consistently to decide them. The Porricellis are a well-known family who feel passionate about their Greenwich roots. But their case should be evaluated no differently than that of a family with a lower profile or more modest means who has yet to make its mark in a community.

The Porricellis' case may contribute to the local lore about residency and boundary cases, but given the passions about "home" in our area, it won't be the last.

Property tax related to this?
Voting dispute continues, may have wider impact
By Neil Vigdor, Staff Writer
Published November 20 2006
November 20, 2006

GREENWICH - A precedent could be set, some officials say, when Greenwich decides whether a grocer and his wife - whose property straddles the Greenwich-Stamford town line - can vote as Greenwich residents.

An attorney for Jerry and Marianne Porricelli, however, says the facts of the case are unique and the only precedent to be set is whether the town will stand by the assurance he says was given when the couple purchased the home.  Elected officials, neighborhood groups and others are watching as an eligibility panel deliberates the couple's appeal for reinstatement as voters.

A planned housing development of 195 units on the former Cuisinart property at 77 Havemeyer Lane also has their attention - the units will have an Old Greenwich mailing address despite being entirely in Stamford.

"I'm concerned about the precedent it would set, whether it would be Cuisinart or any other property," said Selectman Peter Crumbine, who, with the other two selectmen and town clerk, are members of the eligibility panel deliberating the Porricelli case.

In arguments to the Board for Admission of Electors last month, Westport lawyer Alan Neigher said the registrars told his clients in writing when they were house-hunting in 2000 that they could vote in Greenwich if they bought the home at 9 Hillcrest Park Road.  Neigher accused the registrars of going back on their word when they notified the couple 10 months later that they were not considered "bona fide" residents because a majority of their border property is in Stamford, including their house. State law requires citizens to be bona fide residents of the community where they vote but does not define the term.

The couple, who voted as Greenwich residents from their current address in 2000, 2003, 2004 and 2005, also has challenged the residency standards used by the registrars. They say the postmaster recognizes their address as Old Greenwich and that they pay motor vehicle and some property taxes to the town. He has also run for and served twice as a Representative Town Meeting member.

"This is a very unique case," Neigher said last week. "They were promised, and they relied on that promise and bought the property. Nobody else can say that."

Supporters of the couple's ouster say a decision in their favor would open the door for others to be counted as residents, however.

"Obviously, the implications are not only allowing someone to vote, but, if we're not careful, allowing someone to put their children in our schools," said Robert Tuthill, chairman of the RTM District 3/Chickahominy delegation. "That might bring a lot of other people who are in exactly the same set of circumstances."

Residency requirements for public school attendance are much more clearly defined by the law, however. It is determined by the location of the student's dwelling. For voting purposes, municipalities wield much more discretion when it comes to defining residency.  Tuthill opposes the couple's reinstatement for the same reason as the registrars. He also objects to Porricelli's membership in the RTM, which he said allows the grocer to vote on critical issues such as the town budget.

"This is like, 'Come on, folks,' " Tuthill said. "If you want to live in the town of Greenwich, live in the town of Greenwich."

First Selectman Jim Lash said town officials are aware of examples like the former Cuisinart property.  Several properties along Stamford border on Taconic Road also have been scrutinized by the town. Another example is the multimillion-dollar gated development Conyers Farms, where a number of properties bordering Banksville, N.Y., previously have been called into question.

"Many street addresses are situated along the border, where some or all of the property is not in Greenwich," Lash said. "Every case always has certain unique characteristics. Whether those characteristics drive the case or not, we'll know when we make our decision."

Granting a one-time exception remains an area of uncertainty, however.

"I don't know that it is possible to do that," Lash said. "That's one of the questions we'll be discussing with the town attorney."

A decision in the Porricelli case is not expected until after Thanksgiving. One group that could take a major interest in the proceedings is the Old Greenwich Association.

"The Old Greenwich Association would be concerned if the Cuisinart property owners had a right to vote in Greenwich," said Peter Uhry, a spokesman for the group and member of its board. "It raises the question of whether or not they would also have access to the schools. And here, it would have quite a serious impact on our community, and we would want to look at that."

Greenwich Town Planner Diane Fox said the former Cuisinart property has "always had a Greenwich address."

"Now what privileges that gave them in the past for their employees, I don't know," Fox said.

Though voting issues are not part of her purview, Fox said she has had conversations about schools about the development.

"Children will not be able to be in the schools in Greenwich. You must sleep and reside in the community in which you go to school," Fox said. "I was told that by the Board of Ed, so I'll believe them."

Messages for Starwood Buckingham LLC, the property's developer, were left with its Stamford lawyer, Bill Hennessey. He said he was not privy to details about the units, such as their residents' mailing address or voting status.

"Certainly to the extent that they live in the (city) of Stamford, I suppose they would be Stamford residents," Hennessey said.

A sliver of the nearly 20-acre property is in Greenwich and assessed by the town, which collects about $134 in annual property taxes from the 601-square-foot lot. The city of Stamford collects about $180,500 in annual real estate taxes on the same property. It was unclear whether the developer or the individual tenants will pay taxes to both communities.

Porricelli pays about $470 per year in real estate taxes to Greenwich, where less than a tenth, or 1,742 square feet, of his 1-acre property is located. The remaining $19,000 in real estate taxes goes to Stamford.

Neigher said his clients, who have several grown children, are not seeking access to Greenwich schools. He said the case could have limited precedent for others.

"If they're promised by the registrars that they are legitimate Greenwich voters, then it will have precedential value," said Neigher, who has said no legal statute supports the standards used by the registrars.

He has also cited a 2005 state Elections Enforcement Commission ruling that dismissed a complaint brought against the Porricellis by the registrars alleging that they misstated their town of residence when applying to vote.

William Kupinse, the Bridgeport lawyer hired by the town to represent registrars Sharon Vecchiolla and Veronica Baron Musca, said his clients have been consistent in determining residency.

"I know that there are other properties which the registrars have looked at, which have Greenwich addresses, some on the same road as the Porricellis, where the residences are not in the town of Greenwich, and those people are not registered as voters," Kupinse said.

Supporters of the couple's reinstatement have pointed to their roots in the community, which they say date back 30 years. They own the Food Mart supermarkets in Cos Cob and Old Greenwich and have been heavily involved in local charities.

"There's no question that Mr. Porricelli has made significant contributions both commercially and civicly to the town of Greenwich," Crumbine said. "The decision really has to be based on the law, and I'm sure that's what's going to drive this."

Lash, who received $1,000 for his re-election campaign last year from the grocer, said he could remain objective.

"I guess people will have to decide," if it's a conflict," Lash said. "If I thought it was influencing me in some way, obviously, I would take myself out of the decision."

Critics of restoring the couple to the books, meanwhile, said there was an easy way clear up the situation.  They said the couple, who owns a house on Shady Brook Lane in Old Greenwich listed for $2.6 million on the real estate market, should move.

"He could move in there and be in there before Thanksgiving," Tuthill said.  The couple's attorney rejected the suggestion, however.

"I'm sure this gentleman would do the same if the shoe was on the other foot," Neigher said. "Moving a house is no easy matter."