City demands PILOT funds

The Board of Aldermen is currently pushing to receive additional funding for the city from the Connecticut
state government.
The Board of Aldermen is currently pushing to receive additional funding for the city from the Connecticut state government. Photo by Isaac Stanley-Becker.

Give us what we deserve.

That is the message a unanimous New Haven Board of Alders sent Monday night to the state of Connecticut. The Board approved a resolution calling on Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy and the General Assembly to fully fund Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT), a program that reimburses municipalities for lost revenue from nontaxable properties.

“This is not charity for the city of New Haven — this is our right,” Ward 19 Alder Michael Stratton, one of the resolutions’ authors, said Monday before the vote. “Just give us our money.”

Under statutory reimbursement levels, the state should be sending 77 percent of the property taxes the city would receive as reimbursement for schools, hospitals and other tax-exempt nonprofits, including Yale University, Stratton said. It is only sending 32 percent. As reimbursement for state buildings, the state is obligated to pay the city 45 cents on the dollar, but is currently only handing over 21 cents, he added.

Connecticut’s Office of Policy and Management pegged New Haven’s fully funded PILOT reimbursementat $10.3 million for fiscal year 2014, according to a spreadsheet of town-by-town state PILOT funding obtained by the News. The actual payment for 2014 is just over $5 million, it reported.

Responding to the Board of Alders’ resolution at an unrelated press conference Sunday, Connecticut Lieutenant Gov. Nancy Wyman said the state would like to work toward the full agreed-upon reimbursement. The state lacks funds to meet that goal this year, she said.

A dozen alders joined Stratton as co-sponsors of the resolution, including Board President Jorge Perez. It won unanimous approval from the 27 lawmakers present at Monday night’s meeting, who voted on a substitute amendment from Ward 25 Alder Adam Marchand GRD ’99. The amendment toned down some of the language in the original proposition.

“This is an item for consensus, not aggression,” said Ward 26 Alder Darryl Brackeen. “We are due this funding, and I believe that through collaboration and teamwork that we can get this done and work along with the [New Haven] delegation.”

The Board’s resolution is just one part of Stratton’s two-pronged approach to getting the state to send more money to New Haven. Stratton has also devised a lobbying strategy to win over state legislators critical to the fate of PILOT funding. He has personally hired lobbyist Bob Shea, a West Hartford lawyer, to enlist allies and win over skeptics in Hartford.

State Rep. Pat Widlitz, the House chair of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, is a critical vote, Stratton said. State Rep. Roland Lemar, the committee’s vice chair who represents a portion of New Haven, will be a major asset, Stratton added. He also specifically mentioned State Sen. Joe Crisco and Brendan Sharkey, the speaker of the House, as crucial legislators to court.

One idea Shea will float with state lawmakers is creating a regional board with representatives from towns surrounding New Haven to oversee how the city spends a small proportion of PILOT funding, Stratton said, thus providing for regional cooperation and ensuring that the money also benefits neighboring areas.

Rebecca Bombero, the city’s acting parks director and a legislative liaison for Mayor Toni Harp, said the administration is supportive of full PILOT funding but declined comment on the specific resolution passed by the Board. Bombero said Harp is continuously involved in pushing the state to pay the city its due.

Stratton said the state has sought to substitute PILOT payments for piecemeal “pet projects” — dispensing cash into programs of its choice rather than giving autonomy to New Haven. The city is best situated to allocate its own money, he added, and is already paying the price for programs that benefit the entire state: universities, museums, churches and other tax-exempt entities.

“Stop telling us we’re mishandling our funds,” Stratton said. “We’re taking care of all of New Haven’s homeless, all of New Haven’s returned citizens, all of the special needs children … the state is killing taxpayers and making people leave this state.”

The resolution further calls for public hearings to gather testimony about the effect of reduced PILOT funding on New Haven residents.

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