The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT)

Officials urge state to keep its promise

Rates not factored into towns’ reimbursem­ent

- By Ben Lambert

HARTFORD — Officials representi­ng Hamden, Bridgeport and Torrington urged state lawmakers to keep to the spirit of a promise Wednesday afternoon and provide valuable funding to municipali­ties that was withheld because of a budgetary loophole.

Under SB 1502, which implemente­d the state budget for the 2018-19 biennium, the state Legislatur­e raised the rate at which motor vehicle taxes can be assessed from 32 to 39 mills, noting that municipali­ties would be reimbursed for the difference between that figure and their respective tax rates in the assessment year that began Oct. 1, 2013 — the 2013 fiscal year.

Hamden, Torrington and Bridgeport conducted revaluatio­ns after that assessment year, which pushed their tax rates beyond 39 mills to 45.36, 45.75, and 54.37 respective­ly.

This was not factored into the reimbursem­ent formula in the FY 2018 state budget, leaving municipali­ties with gaps in their potential budgets.

“We’re just asking for our fair share,” said Hamden Mayor Curt B. Leng. “The choice, if not, is to harm our citizens — harming them in one of two ways. Hurting the services, or in their pocketbook — one or the other.”

The Office of Policy and Management released $4.5 million in available funding to the three communitie­s earlier this month — a portion of what was potentiall­y owed. But officials would like to be made whole, and said so Wednesday during a press conference in the State Capitol and Legislativ­e Office Building in Hartford.

“We pulled this off together to talk about a car tax gap that is currently affecting our three towns — and just our three towns, blowing massive holes in our budget this year,” said state Rep. Michael D’Agostino, D-Hamden.

Christina Crowder of the Whitneyvil­le Progressiv­e Action Network said the town had been underfunde­d by the Education Cost Sharing grant for years, and yet, was still facing this issue, which could prompt cuts to services.

“We’re just here to say enough is enough. We are sick of getting the short end of the stick every time there’s a problem with some legislativ­e snafu up here in Hartford,” said Crowder.

Torrington still has approximat­ely $1 million in potential reimbursem­ent

outstandin­g, according to state Rep. Michelle Cook, D-Torrington. She urged that it be supplied Wednesday.

“That really turns around and impacts, not only a struggling educationa­l system, but it also impacts the decisions to be able to hire police officers, hire firefighte­rs, and do exactly what we see people requesting us do — fix potholes, fix the loopholes,” said Cook.

Cook said not every municipali­ty had turned in its respective tax rates when the language was being drafted, which could have affected the decision to base the reimbursem­ent formula off the FY 2013 rate.

State Rep. Jay Case, R-Winsted, said the government should stick to the promise of an approved bill.

“To put this on the backs of the people who live in these communitie­s is just wrong,” sad Case. “We all live here in the state of Connecticu­t. This is a law; let’s follow the law — let’s get the money to the communitie­s.”

D’Agostino said the governor’s office and Office of Policy and Management had indicated the Legislatur­e should provide the approximat­ely $5 million in funding required to make the three municipali­ties whole.

Funding to rectify the issue was included in a package recently approved by the Appropriat­ions Committee, according to state Rep. Ezequiel Santiago, D-Bridgeport.

Leng said after the meeting the community would be left with a budgetary

shortfall if the outstandin­g funding was not provided, which would have to be made up in the 2019 fiscal year.

A hiring freeze and “a pretty expansive spending freeze” was instituted early in the fiscal year as a result of the issue, Leng said.

Leng said no additional revenue from the state is included in his proposed FY 2019 budget. He said he recommende­d the tax rate on motor vehicles increase to 45 mills, as allowed for under state statute.

He said he did not like to raise taxes, pointing to the level tax rate included in the FY 2018 budget, but considers a 45mill rate more equitable for Hamden, given the number of renters and students who operate vehicles in town. It could lead to the overall tax rate decreasing a bit, he said.

He said he was thankful for efforts to address the gap in funding, which he said stands at $1.2 million.

“I don’t want to point fingers. I think the state is in an incredibly difficult situation, and that we’re all in this together because we’re all talking about the same constituen­ts,” said Leng. “I just appreciate the fact that I think a lot of the legislatur­e recognizes (the issue), and is trying to fix it.”

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