How just a few years makes a
Cleck here for latest property tax
story in the news...remember this one? Pretty
glum news state-by-state,
Property Tax page:
what is the alternative? Are
states) all going broke? OPM report on municipal finances
2012 Hurricane effect on Grand Lists?
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
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.
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,
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
"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."
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
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.
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?
Budget Dilemma: Not Much
Land Left To Develop
STRUGGLE FOR REVENUE
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
Spotlight; Critics Revive Attempts To Eliminate The State's Reliance On
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
“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
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
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
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
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
“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
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,"
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
ROB VARNON firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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
"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
"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
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.
Need State Makeover
By Paul Choiniere
Published on 6/17/2007
A couple of popular television shows provide the opportunity for a
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
is brilliant in its simplicity.
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
sure the state's largesse translates into property tax relief, Gov.
Rell proposed the 3 percent cap in local spending increases.
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.
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.”
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
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
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
Norwalk HOUR Op-Ed
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
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
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.
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.
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
The Dreadful Property Tax
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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,
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.
estate taxes vary widely by town
By Donna Porstner,Staff Writer,
December 28, 2004
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.
tax rate in Stamford is nearly
three times more than in Greenwich, so it's not surprising that four
as many Stamford residents said they pay too much in taxes.
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.
overwhelming majority of Greenwich
residents -- 74 percent -- said the amount they pay in taxes each year
is "just right."
poll was conducted by the University
of Connecticut's Center for Survey Research and Analysis earlier this
About 500 residents -- 167 each in Stamford, Greenwich and Norwalk --
asked 59 quality of life questions in the telephone survey.
Finance Director Tom Hamilton
said it's not surprising Greenwich residents paying $11 in taxes for
$1,000 of assessed value would be more pleased than their counterparts
in Norwalk and Stamford, who pay $27 to $29 per $1,000.
at how much Greenwich residents
pay as a percentage of the market value of their homes and their
to pay, Hamilton said Greenwich's taxes are probably the lowest in the
estate taxes are determined
by the tax rate, known as the mill rate, and the assessed value of the
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
owners pay about $11,000 a year in taxes compared with an average of
per homeowner in Stamford and $5,100 in Norwalk.
residents in modest homes
would pay considerably more each year if their houses were elsewhere.
example, the owner of a small
three-bedroom ranch on a quarter-acre lot on Havemeyer Lane in
pays $2,900 a year in real estate taxes -- almost $500 less than the
of an almost identical 1,000-square-foot home on Stillwater Avenue in
also tend to be taxed
higher in the more urban communities. According to recent sales data,
taxes on a two-bedroom 1,300-square-foot condominium in Stamford and
are about $3,900 a year compared with about $2,400 a year for a similar
size unit in Greenwich.
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
buyers, said his clients sometimes buy in wealthier towns such as New
and Darien, where they pay less in taxes compared to the value of the
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
Cape in Stamford listed at $589,000 are $5,000 a year.
Lobaido, the Palmers Hill
Road resident paying nearly twice as much in taxes as his Greenwich
said he knew about the tax situation when he bought his
contemporary-style home in 1999.
really didn't want to come (to
Stamford) because we saw the difference in taxes," he said.
said he was so put off by
Stamford's taxes that he and his wife looked in Greenwich for six
getting dragged from house to house with outdated 1950s-era kitchens,
giving Stamford a look.
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
Either way, they'd spend a lot of money.
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.
Avery, a Rowayton resident
on Norwalk's Board of Estimate and Taxation, said the dissatisfaction
property taxes in Norwalk is closely linked to dramatic tax increases
have seen over the past four years. Because Norwalk delayed its 1993
revaluation until 1999, residents were taxed on the 1983 values of
homes until the new assessments went into effect in 2000.
in 1998, the average Norwalk
homeowner was paying about $3,000 a year in taxes; while today that
homeowner is paying $5,000 to $6,000, Avery said.
obvious why people are dissatisfied,"
he said. "These type of radical increases are not expected when
spending is increasing an average of 3 percent or 4 percent a year."
city spending is not the culprit,
homeowners are paying a larger
share of taxes today than in 1983 because the tax burden has shifted
commercial real estate to residential real estate, he said. Twenty
ago, 40 percent of the city's taxes were paid by homeowners. Today,
said, homeowners shoulder about 65 percent of Norwalk's tax burden.
hindsight, he said, it may have
been a mistake to load up Route 1 with big-box retail stores. Had
buildings gone up in their place, the city would have reaped more tax
because, unlike retail, office buildings also pay personal property
on computers and other equipment.
Scannell, who's paying $15,420
a year in real estate taxes on his 4,900-square-foot home in the
section of Stamford, said the amount he pays does not bother him as
as what he is getting -- or not getting -- for his money.
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
bang for our buck there."
said it makes him angry
to see Stamford's public schools get about $370 per student in
cost sharing grant funds from the state each year -- just a little more
than the wealthier surrounding towns. Greenwich gets $246 per student
ECS funding, New Canaan gets $236 and Darien gets $233.
said it would be more equitable
to share education expenses countywide rather than leaving the poorest,
urban communities to fend for themselves.
seems like there should be a
system in which wealth is transferred from wealthier parts of the state
to other areas," he said.
founding member of a Stamford taxpayer's
association informally known by its Web site's address,
Scannell said it's obvious the wealthiest towns are a better bargain
the big cities, if you can afford to buy in.
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.
property taxes elicit
backlash among homeowners
By Dennis Cauchon, USA TODAY
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
"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
Gov. Risch says schools have nothing to fear. "Education is the No. 1
priority of the Legislature."
Homeowners Deal With Rising
By JOHN PAIN, AP Business Writer
July 2, 2005
- 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
in March 2004. But the shock came when their first property tax bill
a few months later — more than $9,200 a year, nearly double what they
in their old home.
an awful lot of money, on
top of your mortgage, to find that cash," said Vasarhelyi, 35, who's
time off from her advertising career to raise their baby.
people are running into similar
problems, a side effect of the real estate boom. As home prices
property taxes are also going up, especially in hot markets like
California and the Northeast.
families simply can't afford
to live here. It's very difficult for police officers, firefighters,
and nurses," said Lori Parrish, the property appraiser in nearby
County, who has pushed for more property tax breaks.
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
lived in their homes for decades are also struggling to pay
national average annual property
tax collection was $971 per person in 2002-2003, up 18 percent from
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,
to the National Association of Realtors.
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.
rising property taxes in theory
should slow down the real estate market, that hasn't happened for two
reasons: "The popular belief that real estate is the best investment
the American willingness to spend a remarkably high fraction of their
income on housing," said foundation spokesman Bill Ahern.
are still sensitive to
complaints from homeowners. At least 48 states have tried to give
relief from rising property taxes, according to the National Conference
of State Legislatures. The methods include tax freezes, restricting
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
property tax relief.
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
$296.7 billion in property taxes in 2002-2003, up from $279.1 billion
2001-2002, according to the latest data from the
Census Bureau. Those numbers likely climbed even faster recently along
with record-high home prices.
taxes pay for everything
from schools and roads to police and fire departments. While they
are collected by local governments, states generally write the laws
are interested in keeping
property taxes manageable at the same time they're balancing the
of public services demanded by citizens," said Bert Waisanen, fiscal
with the National Conference of State Legislatures.
tax relief varies widely
from state to state, and even within them. A 2002 report by the
conference said that states are walking a tightrope to ensure that tax
burdens are fair.
relief provided to some may
come at the expense of others," the report said.
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
of market value. Many other states followed with similar breaks, even
California's recurring budget crisis has been partly blamed on the
states also give home-owners
a homestead exemption or credit, which allows them to deduct a certain
amount from their home's taxable value.
those rules aren't enough to
keep taxes level.
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
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
what options do people have when
the taxman comes calling?
biggest thing that any individual
home-owner can do is to make sure that they aren't overassessed. The
that take place in assessing properties are rampant," American
Association president Richard J. Roll said.
common errors are improper calculation
of square footage and incorrect number of bathrooms or bedrooms, he
Only 2 percent of homeowners have challenged their assessment, but many
more should because about 70 percent of those who do receive a
are often tremendous disparities
for no apparent reason," he said.
Grand List still tops in state at
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
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."