January 29, 2014

Hartford eyes new property tax fix

A city task force has proposed a fix to Hartford's property tax system that gradually increases the residential assessment ratio over 20-plus years so that homeowners and businesses pay a more equal share of taxes.

The task force was created last year by Mayor Pedro Segarra and City Council President Shawn Wooden to offer recommendations on how to make the city's property tax more economically competitive.

For years, Hartford's business community has complained that it's paying a disproportionate share of property taxes and that the inequity is sapping economic vitality from the Capital City.

Past delays in revaluations threw Hartford's property tax system out of whack, and the business community has been asked to shoulder a larger tax burden. State law mandates that both residential and commercial property be assessed at 70 percent of its market value. But in Hartford, residential property is assessed at about 30 percent of value while commercial property is assessed at 70 percent of value.

The task force, which included business, union and other interests, outlined several recommendations with an overall goal of boosting the grand list and lowering the city's highest-in-the state mill rate of 74.2 mills.

The main proposal is to increase the residential assessment ratio (RAR) by 1 percentage point per year for 20 years, and then by 2 percentage points per year thereafter until the ratio hits 70 percent. That would eventually put Hartford's property tax structure in line with the rest of Connecticut's municipalities.

Other recommendations:

•Allow the city to enter into tax fixing agreements with apartment building owners and commercial properties--where investments are being made--with an annual real property tax of less than $50,000.

•Authorize the tax collector to negotiate settlements with taxpayers who have been delinquent for more than 10 years.

•Authorize the state Department of Revenue Services to withhold tax refunds to Hartford residents that owe city taxes.

•Require the city to conduct property revaluations every three years.

•Authorize monthly payments by commercial property owners whose annual aggregate property taxes are equal to or less than $100,000.

•Expand the city's anti-blight authority to include commercial properties.

The changes would require backing from the city council and approval by the state legislature.

The tax task force members included Gordon Scott, owner of Scott's Jamaican Bakery; Rex Fowler, executive director of the Hartford Community Loan Fund; Oz Griebel, CEO of the MetroHartford Alliance; Matthew O'Connor, communications coordinator for the American Federation of Teachers; and Timothy Sullivan, managing director and senior vice president of Wells Fargo Advisors.

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