The city aims to get more revenue from local businesses and homeowners alike
May 05, 2009
Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez has proposed a flat budget for next year of $547.6 million. But faced with declining revenues, and fewer dollars in aid from the state — struggling to deal with its own multi-billion dollar deficit — Perez is also raising city property taxes by about 8 percent.
That's on top of increases that already have Hartford's small businesses paying 20 percent more in taxes each year for five years, effectively doubling their tax burden. That brought howls of protest last year, but in the end, no solution was found and small-business owners paid up. They can hardly believe it's going to get worse.
"You can't quote the words I'd like to use," said Kelly D'Aprile, owner of D&D Market on Franklin Avenue. "I just hope more stores aren't going to close. We can't afford this."
Indeed the Hartford Business Journal reported a record number of businesses closing in the state in the first quarter of this year — 3,477 — with Hartford leading the way with 111 closures.
"When people ask me, 'How's the guy doing down the street?' I only know one market — D&D Market," said D'Aprile. "I concentrate and work so hard here to keep what we have together I don't have time to check on other people."
So far, D&D Market is holding its own, and D'Aprile is proud to say he has not laid off any of his employees, totaling about 40 between the market and a liquor store in the same shopping plaza. He's seeing lower costs for the same quality items from his suppliers, which he is passing on to customers, and he's cutting expenses to the bone. For example, bags that used to cost 5½ cents each have been replaced with lesser-quality bags costing 1¾ cents each, saving $1,000 monthly.
"When things get bad, we become better business people," said D'Aprile. "Now we check everything."
City Councilman Matt Ritter is getting lots of calls about the budget, especially since this year's proposed tax increase, unlike last year's, would affect homeowners as well.
If you own a house in Hartford valued at $200,000, your taxes will increase by $533 to $4,633 from $4,100. That's based on Perez's proposed increase of 8.89 mills, as the tax rate is expressed, to a new mill rate of 77.23.
So even though taxes are calculated on only 30 percent of a home's value in Hartford — $60,000 of that $200,000 home — compared to 70 percent of a home's value in West Hartford — $140,000 of that $200,000 home — the tax rate in Hartford has gotten so high compared to West Hartford that you're going to pay about the same taxes here as you do there, according to Ritter. That's if this year's nearly 9-mill increase passes. The special advantage afforded Hartford homeowners by the legislature, which authorized the 30 percent valuation, will have been lost.
"What should really happen in Hartford is the budget should be roughly $525 million instead of $548 million," Ritter said. "I think we need to cut $25 million from the budget to be able to afford our bills. We're living above our means."
The cuts would entail a "very long list," Ritter said, and would include reductions in every city department, but Ritter is convinced the city could cut back without affecting critical services.