In light of last year’s opaque tax assessments, Ward 7 Alderman Doug Hausladen ’04 asked the Elm City’s tax assessor’s office for greater future clarity and transparency.
Hausladen requested late last month that the city’s tax assessor, Alex Pullen, attend a public Board of Aldermen meeting to explain the way the office conducts its tax assessments to aldermen and interested New Haven residents. In preparation for the meeting, Hausladen said he will submit a list of questions this week to the assessor in an attempt to understand why certain tax rates on similar properties “vary wildly” from neighborhood to neighborhood, a phenomenon critics have said may worry potential investors.
“I’d like to do anything we can at the Board of Aldermen to let people know that [New Haven is] open to investment and that there is a clear and even playing field when people come to our city,” Hausladen said. “There’s a lot of variation in assessments and I want this meeting to be mainly informational for the Board and anyone else who wants to pay attention.”
Pullen said that the tax assessor methodology is “all in a book in the [tax assessor’s] office” and that anyone can come to the office to educate themselves on the methodology. Office staff is always willing to explain the terms in the book and help people understand anything that is confusing, he added. The tax assessor’s office held public meetings in different neighborhoods last December and at City Hall this past September to explain the way tax assessments are determined. Still, Pullen said he could not “see any reason why [he] wouldn’t” agree to Hausladen’s request to attend a Board meeting.
However, Hausladen said that despite the tax assessor’s efforts, many of his constituents tell him they are still confused as to how the assessments are determined and the processes by which they can be appealed.
Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 repeated the need for transparency in tax assessments to attract investors to New Haven, citing the 360 State Street apartment building as a potential warning sign for investors. City officials had originally projected annual taxes of $1.4 million for the 500-unit, 32-story luxury apartment tower at 360 State, but the final bill came in at $4.3 million.
“The important thing is to make sure there is some predictability, and 360 State may send the message that New Haven might not be the most predictable to invest in if investors can’t predict how much their costs really will be,” Elicker said.
Tilly Hatcher, a consultant to Multi-Employer Property Trust, which owns 360 State, criticized the process that currently exists for taxpayers to resolve tax assessment disputes by going to court.
“The lack of transparency is a big problem, as it forces taxpayers to go to court to obtain information and resolve questions, which is expensive for both the city and the taxpayer. It also discourages investment and job creation which the city needs,” she wrote in a Tuesday email to the News.
Pullen explained that the tax assessor’s office cannot disclose certain information relating to how specific assessments were determined, as information such as incomes and personal property declarations are not publicly accessible and are therefore not subject to Freedom of Information laws. He also added that the tax assessor’s office struggles to make accurate assessments when information forms it sends out are not returned.
Both Elicker and Ward 22 Alderman Jeanette Morrison, whose ward includes Silliman, Timothy Dwight, Ezra Stiles and Morse colleges, said they would welcome Pullen at a board meeting.
“Sometimes I think in any entity in which there are rules, as time goes on, people just take for granted that everyone understands the rules,” Morrison said. “When you give an opportunity to people to rehear or relearn the rules and regulations, that can also bring up things that maybe need to be changed, and I am definitely for the tax assessor coming to explain to all of us that process.”
The next Board of Aldermen meeting is Monday, Nov. 19.