Tax Ease Not Likely September 24, 2004
By OSHRAT CARMIEL, Courant Staff Writer
Property taxpayers who hoped the city would ease up on its new accelerated tax collection this year should know this: City lawyers have declared that doing so is illegal.
How the city will go about collecting taxes must be established when the council approves the budget - never after, city lawyers say. Doing otherwise would be a violation of state law.
So for taxpayers who were caught by surprise by the new collection schedule - one that requires taxes to be paid in twice-yearly installments instead of four - the city council is poised to approve a different solution.
On Monday, the council is expected to consider a resolution that could waive the interest penalty on taxpayers who could pay only a portion of their property taxes in July, when the first of the larger installment bills came.
If the council approves the resolution, taxpayers - specifically ones who pay property taxes on their own and not through a bank escrow - would be able to apply for a waiver of the 1.5 percent monthly interest penalty on unpaid tax balances.
Applications would be sent to property taxpayers by mail, and those who chose to apply would have to demonstrate hardship in paying the increased tax bill, said Thomas Morrison, the city's finance director.
Several residents and at least one city councilman complained about the new tax schedule not only because they say it imposes hardship on older and low-income residents, but because it appeared to have been approved by the council last May with little public warning.
The new collection schedule was mentioned in the back of the budget, on the same page that indicated the tax rate. Councilman Kenneth H. Kennedy said he, and others, missed that detail in the budget.
Kennedy this month proposed an ordinance that would revert the collection system to the old, four-times-a-year system.
City finance officials opposed Kennedy's measure, saying that twice-a-year collection is critical to the city's cash flow. In the end, the city's corporation counsel, John Rose Jr., determined that Kennedy's measure would be illegal anyhow.
"The time for us to pass the tax schedule is in the budget and that's it," said Morrison.
Resident groups say that they would have liked some notice during the budget process, any warning that their July tax bill would double.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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