Non­profit pleads for real es­tate tax re­lief

Connecticut Post - - FROM THE FRONT PAGE/NEWS - By Brian Lock­hart

BRIDGE­PORT — A missed dead­line and an un­ex­pect­edly high real es­tate as­sess­ment threaten a new low-in­come hous­ing com­plex and, ac­cord­ing to its de­vel­oper, the prom­i­nent non­profit’s fu­ture projects.

“It’s pretty dire for us right now,” Liz Tor­res, Bridge­port Neigh­bor­hood Trust’s CEO, told City Coun­cil mem­bers and staff from Mayor Joe Ganim’s ad­min­is­tra­tion this week.

Tor­res is seek­ing short­and long-term help with a $225,523 tax bill for West­gate Apart­ments, the 48unit af­ford­able de­vel­op­ment that opened a year ago at 515 West. Ave. Sev­eral of the units house vet­er­ans.

“We don’t have the re­sources to pay,” Tor­res said. And, she em­pha­sized, as long as that debt looms over the or­ga­ni­za­tion, BNT re­mains on a “watch list” and un­able to se­cure fi­nanc­ing for fu­ture build­ings around town.

Tor­res ad­mit­ted that BNT is partly to blame for its fi­nan­cial woes. The non­profit was sup­posed to ap­ply to the city for a spe­cial ur­ban en­ter­prise zone des­ig­na­tion that would have kept West­gate’s tax bill around $13,000 — the value of the va­cant land — for a few years, then grad­u­ally in­crease what was paid the city.

“We are ac­cept­ing full re­spon­si­bil­ity for hav­ing missed the dead­line,” Tor­res said.

Mak­ing that prob­lem worse, the com­pleted West­gate’s prop­erty as­sess­ment was un­ex­pect­edly high — $4.18 mil­lion, re­sult­ing in the cur­rent tax hit of $225,523. Tor­res is ap­peal­ing that as­sess­ment, but it could take months and plenty of le­gal fees.

“My only ex­pla­na­tion is they as­sessed the prop­erty as a straight mar­ket-rate de­vel­op­ment,” she said.

So BNT is ask­ing City Hall and the coun­cil for two forms of re­lief: To retroac­tively la­bel West­gate an ur­ban en­ter­prise zone, im­me­di­ately re­duc­ing Tor­res’ taxes, and then to con­sider a 20-year tax break to address the cur­rent and any fu­ture prob­lems with the real es­tate as­sess­ment.

“Time is of the essence for us on this is­sue,” Tor­res said.

Pol­i­tics and taxes

Bridge­port Neigh­bor­hood Trust is viewed by many in the city as a vi­tal part­ner in re­vi­tal­iz­ing neigh­bor­hoods. Tor­res said the non­profit cur­rently owns 20 build­ings con­tain­ing a to­tal of 208 apart­ments plus com­mer­cial space and pays $350,000 an­nu­ally in taxes.

“With­out us, there just wasn’t any in­vest­ment hap­pen­ing in these ar­eas,” Tor­res told coun­cil mem­bers.

Pro­posed in 2015, West­gate Apart­ments cost $13.5 mil­lion and was built atop a va­cant lot be­hind a Wal­greens Phar­macy. Ini­tially, BNT had sought a 20-year tax abate­ment from thenMayor Bill Finch’s ad­min­is­tra­tion to help keep the rents for West­gate’s units sta­ble.

But though those tax sub­si­dies were ini­tially ap­proved by a coun­cil sub­com­mit­tee, they were ef­fec­tively killed at the full coun­cil’s fi­nal meet­ing be­fore 2015’s may­oral elec­tion when for­mer Mayor Joe Ganim re­turned to City Hall.

Bridge­port’s chief ex­ec­u­tive in the 1990s, Ganim suc­cess­fully sought his old job back in 2015, de­feat­ing Finch in that sum­mer’s pri­mary, then win­ning Novem­ber’s gen­eral elec­tion. Dur­ing the cam­paign, Ganim com­plained about the length and size of the tax breaks awarded un­der Finch to devel­op­ers — fu­el­ing what had al­ready been grow­ing op­po­si­tion on the coun­cil to such sub­si­dies.

Af­ter that, BNT’s tax pack­age was tabled in a 10 to 8 vote, ef­fec­tively killing it be­fore Ganim and a new coun­cil were sworn in.

“We had to re­struc­ture the deal,” Tor­res said, which led to the idea of the ur­ban en­ter­prise zone des­ig­na­tion.

Thomas Gill, Ganim’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment di­rec­tor, also at­tended Tor­res’ meet­ing with coun­cil mem­bers this week. Gill urged they sup­port mak­ing West­gate an ur­ban en­ter­prise zone “with the un­der­stand­ing she might come back to the coun­cil with a longer tax deal.”

Gill’s de­part­ment has the power to pro­vide some tax as­sis­tance to help devel­op­ers break ground on projects with­out a coun­cil vote. But Gill noted in the case of West­gate, “we can­not be­cause it’s built al­ready.”

Coun­cil­woman Jeanette Her­ron was not a mem­ber when BNT’s tax in­cen­tives were tabled in 2015. Her­ron told Tor­res that BNT does “a great job” but em­pha­sized “I won’t agree with 20 years” worth of tax breaks.

Coun­cil­man Ernie New­ton, also elected af­ter that 2015 vote, asked why Gill’s de­part­ment could not have worked with the tax asses­sor to en­sure West­gate’s prop­erty as­sess­ment was low­ered.

“It’s not our job to tell a tax asses­sor how to as­sess a build­ing,” Gill said. “They know this stuff. Whether they made a mis­take on this one, I have no idea. ... But the onus isn’t on us.”

Like Her­ron and New­ton, Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Aidee Nieves also was not sit­ting on the coun­cil in late 2015 when BNT’s ini­tial tax in­cen­tives were tabled. Nieves en­cour­aged her col­leagues to vote in fa­vor of the ur­ban en­ter­prise zone and asked Gill and his staff to craft 10, 15 and 20year tax abate­ment pro­pos­als for West­gate for the coun­cil to con­sider.

“I know some peo­ple have a lot of is­sues when you hear ‘abate­ment,’” Nieves said. “We’d rather have suc­cess­ful projects than aban­doned build­ings.”

Ned Ger­ard / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

The West­gate Apart­ments, at the cor­ner of Fair­field and West av­enues in Bridge­port.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.