The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT)
Officials urge state to keep its promise
Rates not factored into towns’ reimbursement
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.”