Mayor John DeStefano Jr. announced a plan Monday to help homeowners shoulder the burden of rising property tax bills.
DeStefano presented what he dubbed the Homeowner Fairness Initiative at a City Hall press conference as an attempt to mitigate the impact of a 2011 property revaluation that caused the value of many properties in the city to appreciate. Under DeStefano’s plan, tax increases for homeowners would be phased in over a period of five years, while commercial properties whose value appreciated since the last revaluation in 2006 will pay higher taxes to compensate the city. All properties that have depreciated in value since 2006 will have their lower property taxes implemented immediately, DeStefano said.
The revaluation, which occurs every five years, called for a decrease in the property tax rate, or the mill rate, from 4.39 to 4.056, according to DeStefano. The mayor’s plan seeks to provide tax relief for homeowners who face an increased tax burden due to their properties’ appreciation. Businesses will not see any help from the program.
“As the initiative only applies to residential property, commercial taxpayers don’t really reap the benefits and as a result, will pay slightly higher taxes,” DeStefano said. “The idea was to focus specifically on homeowners and give them five years to catch up.”
DeStefano explained that the city had three options in response to the property revaluations: fully implement the new values, utilize a state law that allows the city to phase in the changes over time for all property owners or to create a new option that would need approval from both the Board of Aldermen and the state legislature.
The first two options, DeStefano said, would provide inadequate tax relief to homeowners who saw a significant increase in their property revaluations.
The Homeowner Fairness Initiative, which requires the Board of Aldermen’s approval, would only affect how long homeowners will have until they must eventually pay their new property taxes, not the absolute value of their final tax levels, DeStefano said.
“I’m really happy about this plan and I know a lot of the residents are too,” Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker said, adding that the Board of Aldermen held a meeting several weeks ago to discuss the city’s options in responding to property revaluation, and the mayor’s proposal appeared likely to pass the Board. “Without this plan, we might push out middle-class folks who can’t adjust to the new tax rates that quickly,” Elicker said. “We would end up with a neighborhood of very wealthy professors and New York investors, and we want a mixed neighborhood.”
Elicker said that he expects an influx of reactions from residents and business owners now that DeStefano has announced the details of the plan.
Several residents attended DeStefano’s Monday press conference. Though no one in attendance explicitly criticized the Homeowner Fairness Initiative, at least five expressed frustration at what they perceived to be a long-term pattern of property tax increases.
“Most of us have been here for more than five years, and my taxes have gone up over 300 percent since I’ve been here,” said Mona Berman, a resident of Wooster Square. “As we’re getting older, our potential income decreases and our property values increase, and this phase-in doesn’t really address the true issue. This is just another band-aid that doesn’t get to the heart of the solution.”
DeStefano responded by explaining that the real antidote to the high property tax burden New Haveners face lies in tax reform at the state level.
The Office of the Assessor received about 1,700 appeals from property owners about their assessments after the 2001 evaluation, 1,500 appeals after the 2006 evaluation and 1,100 appeals after the 2011 evaluation, DeStefano said, citing the decreasing appeals as evidence of improvement in the city’s revaluation process.
But Berman said she thought that the decrease was instead the result of the “psyche of fear” that the government has instilled in taxpayers.
A group of five residents gathered outside the meeting and asked that the municipal government focus on bigger issues like balancing the budget, arguing that property taxes are a misguided way of fixing the city’s financial woes.
“We bought our house when the neighborhood was less than ideal — there was a house at the end of the street that was a drug den, there were hookers and there were people dying,” Berman said. “We worked together to clean up the place, and now we’re being penalized for making it a great neighborhood and for wanting to make our houses nicer places.”
New Haven’s 2011-’12 fiscal year budget projected that the city will collect $222,981,970 in property taxes, or approximately 47 percent of the city’s general fund.
Correction March 2
An earlier version of this article mistakenly implied that property revaluation caused the mill rate to change; in fact, this was only possible because of growth in the city’s grand list. It also incorrectly listed the mill rate as a percentage, and implied that the adjustments to the mill rate proposed by Mayor John DeStefano Jr. would apply only to a proportion of homeowners; in fact, they would apply to all property owners in the city.