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Hartford Legislators Want More Information On Tax Cap

By DANIEL E. GOREN | Courant Staff Writer

April 12, 2008

The Hartford legislative delegation wants to know the impact of a proposal to cap small business tax increases at 6 or 7 percent this year, but city officials have not provided the assessment information legislators say they need to determine the effects of such a measure.

Without the information, some members of the delegation said, the legislative session will slip away without any tax relief to the city's small businesses. As a class, the small businesses saw their taxes increase by 20 percent last year and are facing another 20 percent hike again this year.

City officials say they have provided what the delegation needs to make its own analysis, and that the assessor "has no time" to provide anything more.

Meanwhile, while city and state politicians fail to work cooperatively, the city's small businesses face crushing tax bills, one small business owner said.

"Each side wants to blame the other," said John Tornatore, the owner of Gordon Bonetti Florists on Franklin Avenue. "And then the frustration keeps building on the part of small business owners, because we are going to drown soon, and so will the city with us."

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 value of small business property rose proportionately faster than other classes, and hundreds of small businesses were hit with skyrocketing tax bills. Many said they may be forced to close or move.

State Rep. Art Feltman said that he and the delegation have been asking the city for the data for months, but have gotten little cooperation. The latest request, made in a March 31 letter, was signed by all eight of Hartford's legislators. It asked to know what tax relief a cap of 6 or 7 percent would provide small businesses. It also asked how such a change would affect larger commercial properties and the city's mill rate.

"The assessor gave us gibberish," Feltman said. "He gave us data from the wrong year, he gave us data based on current law, not showing the impact of the proposed changes, and then he gave us data that was random, with no pattern to it. It is useless."

Feltman said that the delegation would need the data by next week to retain any chance of putting together legislation with support from all interested parties small businesses, big businesses, and city and state officials. Feltman said the lack of cooperation from the city has been "frustrating."

"It is impossible to understand rationally," he said. "Despite whatever political differences city hall and legislators may have, we represent the same people and have the same interests. The interest is in retaining our neighborhood businesses, keeping jobs in the city and also maintaining a strong relationship with our large employers."

State Rep. Kelvin Roldan said he could not comment on what the city provided, since he had not seen it. But Roldan said he would want "as much information as possible, and I would hope that the assessor would provide us with some kind of view of what the impact would be."

"The end goal is property tax relief," Roldan said.

Derek Donnelly, the mayor's legislative assistant, said that the city has gotten many requests from the delegation and has responded to all of them. And though he admits the information hasn't been in the exact format requested by the delegation, he said, its members should have enough information for the state Office of Fiscal Analysis to crunch the numbers. The city simply doesn't have time to perform the work, he said.

"We've filled every request to the extent that we have the ability to do things easily," Donnelly said. "We haven't run complicated property questions, complicated projections, because frankly we are working on the [city] budget and we are giving [the delegation] as much information as we possibly can."

"They can do whatever specific projections with [the data] they want," Donnelly said.

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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