Bill Would Cap Tax Increases For Hartford Homeowners
By JENNA CARLESSO
April 04, 2011
HARTFORD —— City property assessments would increase by no more than 3 percent for each of the next five years under a bill being considered by the state legislature.
If the measure is not passed, residents' property taxes would double. Similar bills addressing the city's property assessment have been passed for the last 30 years.
"It would literally be the most jaw-dropping event for homeowners ever," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Matthew Ritter, D-Hartford. "This would be a devastating end result for the city of Hartford's homeownership base."
The bill is co-sponsored by three other members of the city's legislative delegation.
The assessment rate for city homeowners was lowered to about 30 percent of market value in the late 1970s, in part to encourage homeownership and in part because the city had postponed property revaluation since the 1950s, city Assessor Lawrence LaBarbera said.
The lower rate was established to ease the tax burden on residents, who would have faced drastic increases, he said.
Since then, the legislature has passed a bill at the end of each revaluation cycle — every 10 years in the 1980s and 1990s, and every five since the law changed in 2004 — to keep the assessment rate near 30 percent of market value.
The rest of the state's cities and towns, and commercial businesses in Hartford, are taxed at a higher assessment rate of 70 percent.
Under the bill, residential property assessments would remain at about 30 percent of market value. Homeowners' assessment increases would be capped at 3 percent per year for five years, while increases for those who own apartment buildings would be capped at 5 percent, Ritter said.
State law requires that municipal taxes reflect market values. That means land and buildings must be periodically reassessed to account for differences in market trends, such as one neighborhood growing in value more quickly than another.
In Hartford, the trend over the years has been a gradual departure of businesses. Normally that would have shifted a huge tax burden onto residents, but special legislation has mitigated that.
If Gov. Dannel P. Malloy doesn't sign Ritter's bill into law, the city's residential tax system would revert to the 70 percent assessment rate. Residents would see their tax bills increase by about 100 percent on July 1, 2012, Ritter said.
Mayor Pedro Segarra testified in favor of the bill earlier this month, saying it would "prevent a very disastrous result that we would have if the legislation runs out."
"Our residential sector would be facing a substantial increase in the real estate tax, and that would be unsustainable," he said.
But Segarra said lawmakers also need to focus on long-term solutions.
"What I would like to see is comprehensive tax reform that would not make us rely predominantly on the real estate tax," the mayor said. "It doesn't work for us. More than half of our properties are exempt and it puts an incredible burden on the residential and commercial taxpayers. That's not a good way to move our city forward."
R. Nelson "Oz" Griebel, chief operating officer of MetroHartford Alliance, said the legislature should mandate a phase-in of the 70 percent assessment rate for residential property owners over the course of five years.
"The goal is to grow the grand list," he said. "There's not a competitive advantage to the city in having this artificial assessment ratio that no other city has."
The bill, co-sponsored by Hartford Democratic Reps. Hector Robles, Kelvin Roldan and Marie Kirkley-Bey, is now before the finance, revenue and bonding committee.
Courant senior information specialist Tina Bachetti contributed to this story.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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