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Perez Veto On Tax Proposals Baffles Council

By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer

February 21, 2008

The city's efforts to solve its property-tax woes have provoked a showdown between the mayor and the newly elected city council.

Last week, the council approved some of Mayor Eddie A. Perez's recommendations for property tax reform.

But council members said they wanted to gather more information before voting on a key administration-backed proposal to lift the 3.5 percent cap on some non-owner occupied residential properties.

Council members said they were concerned that lifting the cap would raise rents for poorer residents; Perez thinks that unlikely.

Nevertheless, on Wednesday Perez issued the first veto of this council's term, telling the council that last week's action was procedurally flawed, unnecessary and could delay legislative action on a vital issue to Hartford property taxpayers.

"This is a serious issue that needs to be addressed and I hope the council will move with a sense of urgency to develop a position supportive of a longer term solution," Perez wrote the council.

Some on the council found the veto baffling.

"The fact is that we made very clear questions of the administration with regards to some issues we felt were of concern, and what we got in response was a veto," Councilman Pedro Segarra said. "I don't think that's a good way to do business."

"All we did in addition to what he wanted is ask questions," he said.

The city created the property tax task force after it discovered last year that small businesses in Hartford would be disproportionately hit with large tax bills because of a 2006 revaluation.

Under that revaluation, tax increases on residential properties not occupied by owners are capped at 3.5 percent, and the task force plan would eliminate that cap an attempt to shift more of the tax burden onto some apartment owners, shield homeowners and help out small-business owners.

Proponents of lifting the cap say it would bring in more revenue for the city and ease the pain for the city's small-business owners. Opponents say it would lead to higher rents and increased blight and may not have the desired small-business effect.

Last week, the council passed some of the task force's recommendations asking state legislators to fully fund all payments the state makes on state-owned and other nontaxable properties, to restore a housing property tax abatement program and to introduce legislation to address the constitutional spending gap.

Councilman Kenneth Kennedy called the veto "ridiculous," saying the council passed what it could agree on and held off on what it couldn't while it got more answers.

"And that somehow deserves a veto from the mayor?" Kennedy said. "It doesn't make a lot of sense to me."

"The bad thing about this is that it shows a lot of disharmony [to] the legislature. It shows that Hartford is not on the same page," Kennedy said.

Segarra said he wasn't going to waste time trying to override the veto. Instead, he will try to get answers to questions he has about the mayor's tax reform proposals before Monday's council meeting. The council will most likely take further action next week, he said.

Perez hopes it does, said Matt Hennessy, Perez's chief of staff.

"The legislature is meeting," Hennessy said. "It's time to get moving."

"Clearly, the mayor would still like his original resolution either voted up or down," Hennessy said. "If the council wishes to strike down some major recommendations from the task force, they should do it in a clear way."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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