New bills to offset higher tax

As New Haven becomes more prosperous, residents reap the benefits of improved services and a growing economy, but also face higher property taxes. Hoping to reduce the burden on New Haven residents, the Board of Aldermen passed two bills Monday night that aim to mitigate the effect of the increases.

Reassessments of property values will now be phased in over a five year period, as opposed to going into effect immediately. The board also voted to approve a 10 percent property-tax exemption for veterans for up to $10,000 of a property’s value.

Connecticut state law mandates that properties be revaluated every five years. By raising taxes in equal increments in each of the five years until the next revaluation, residents will receive a temporary reprieve, Ward 9 Alderman Ronald Lemar said. A residential property owner whose land jumped in value from $100,000 to $150,000, for example, would pay taxes on $110,000 next year, on $120,000 the year after and so on, rather than paying taxes on the full $150,000 right away.

Ward 1 Alderman Nick Shalek ’05 said the fact that rising property taxes were a problem was a sign that more people want to live in the community. But since residential property values increased substantially more than commercial values, residents — not businesses — will shoulder a greater portion of the city’s increased budget.

“Raising the property taxes in gradual increments over five years was the most humane way to pass the revaluation on to residents,” Shalek said.

Shalek said that a few residents — those whose property values fell over the past five years — will not benefit from the bill. Their taxes will not fall as dramatically as they would have, he said, since the decreases will also be phased in gradually.

While the revaluation implementation bill will help most city residents, the second bill passed targets a smaller group of veterans who are having difficulties making ends meet. Supporters of the bill were unsure how many veterans would qualify for or take advantage of the tax abatement, and thus they could not say how it would affect the city’s revenues.

Ward 28 Alderman Mordechai Sandman proposed — and later withdrew — an amendment that would have added a sunset clause to the bill after one year, so that the city could assess its fiscal impact. He said he changed his mind after speaking with the bill’s drafters.

“After the countless hours spent [designing the legislation], to have it come up and be wiped out after a year is not the right thing to do,” Sandman said.

Instead, after Oct. 1, when all requests for abatements will have been submitted, an aldermanic work group will convene to evaluate the cost to the city and the number of veterans aided by the proposal.

“We want to reach out to veterans having a hard time paying,” Sandman said.

Depending on the work group’s conclusions, legislative changes could be instituted in the future.

The changes in property taxes were passed in anticipation of probable expenditure increases by the city. Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s recent budget proposal called for raising New Haven’s budget to $445 million — a $30 million jump from last year. In a statement released Monday by the mayor, DeStefano also proposed freezing the property taxes of all senior citizens at their current levels.

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