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Tax Increase Cap Will Remain

By DANIEL E. GOREN | Courant Staff Writer

February 26, 2008

The Hartford city council unanimously rejected a proposal Monday by the city's property tax task force to lift a 3.5 percent tax cap on apartment buildings and homes not occupied by their owners.

The proposal, the city council said, could hurt the city's most financially vulnerable residents renters. Chancing harm on those most in need of help was not a risk the city council was willing to take, its members said.

"You don't roll the dice with the poorest of Hartford's residents," Councilman Matt Ritter said. "I think the council is erring on the side of caution on this one."

Mayor Eddie A. Perez created the task force after the city discovered last year that small businesses in Hartford would be disproportionately hit with large tax bills because of a 2006 revaluation of city property. The revaluation resulted in hundreds of small businesses the property value of which rose proportionately faster than other classes getting hit with skyrocketing tax bills. Many said they may be forced to close or move.

The task force's findings would then be used as a guide to forward suggestions to the General Assembly for fixing the problem, city officials said.

Under the 2006 revaluation, tax increases on residential properties not occupied by owners are capped at 3.5 percent, and the task force plan would have suggested eliminating that cap.

The idea was urged by the task force as a way to bring in more revenue for the city and ease the pain of small business owners. In turn, the city's commercial property owners would see a significant drop in their tax burdens, shifting more of the burden on some apartment owners and some nonresident home owners.

Many members of the public balked at the proposal, saying owners of rental units would either pass on tax increases to renters or defer maintenance on their buildings, hurting the city either way.

Tim Sullivan, one of the more vocal residents opposed to the task force's proposal, applauded the city council after its vote Monday.

"I think the renters of the city of Hartford owe a debt of gratitude to this city council for protecting their interests," Sullivan said.

Richard Wareing, the task force's chairman, could not be reached for comment late Monday. Wareing has said he does not believe that lifting the cap would cause rents to rise in a city with 13.7 percent vacancy that is part of a regional rental market.

Competing rental units in neighboring towns, such as East Hartford or Wethersfield, would put "downward pressure" on Hartford landlords, he said. The net result of rising taxes on rental unit owners, according to Wareing, would simply be lower profit margins.

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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