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Thursday, January 29, 2004

Connecticut Panel on Property Taxes and Growth to Hold Norwalk Hearing Tonight

Westporters and others concerned about rising property taxes and dwindling open space get a chance tonight to hear what state lawmakers might consider doing about the controversial issues.

The occasion is a Norwalk hearing by the Connecticut Blue Ribbon Commission on Property Tax Burdens and Smart Growth Incentives at 6:30 p.m. in the Community Room of Norwalk City Hall.

The 15-member commission, whose members include Norwalk Mayor Alex Knopp and whose chair is New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, Jr., issued its 55-page report last October.

Created by the state legislature in 2002, the panel recommended redistribution of about $1.25 billion over the next few years and the possible increase in taxes on the state’s wealthiest.

Westport’s Planning and Zoning Commission has been studying the report. And members of The Partrick Wetlands Preservation Fund of Westport plan to attend the hearing to comment on development proposals they believe are contrary to the report’s recommendations.

The commission said that Connecticut’s very life is at stake, particularly the so-called inner-ring suburbs, where rising property taxes are isolating the elderly and preventing the next generation from living where they grew up.

The document’s authors said the General Assembly must look well beyond the two-year election cycle and into a future that could become tragic if growth is not regulated on a regional basis.

If lawmakers do not address the state’s needs, daily commuting time will become longer, the highways will be even more crowded, open space will essentially disappear and clean drinking water will become scarce, the report said.

The group endorsed stronger regional planning agencies, but stopped well short of endorsing county-style government control over local planning, zoning and education issues.

At a news conference when the report was issued, members said one tactic would be to allow regions the flexibility to add a cent to the state sales tax to fund projects like stadiums and convention centers.

More and more, Connecticut is becoming a state that is separated by income and race, DeStefano, the New Haven mayor, told reporters, He said the 100-year-old system of local property taxes funding local government is outdated.

DeStefano called for lessening property taxes, increasing income taxes on the wealthiest and a multi-year distribution of about $1.25 billion from the state budget back to cities and towns, to save open space and protect manufacturing jobs.

The group recommends raising the minimum amount of state support for public schools; providing more money in state payments on tax-exempt property like universities; and performing three studies costing about $5 million.

“Property tax is not an accurate measure of wealth,” said another commission member, Howard Dean, first selectman of Marlborough. “It does not correlate with the ability to pay, which is the problem.”

The full report, in PDF format, is available by clicking here.

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Posted 01/29/04 at 04:50 AM  Permalink



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