Shoreline residents discuss need for ‘smart growth’
Sunday, September 28, 2008 6:44 AM EDT
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register staff
BRANFORD — With a looming budget crisis in Hartford and national financial turmoil, state and local officials met with Shoreline residents Saturday to discuss new ways to raise revenues and decrease some of the towns’ property tax burden.
The meeting at Canoe Brook Senior Center was a nonpartisan event dealing with property tax reform and smart growth. It was organized by Lonnie Reed, a Democrat running unopposed for the state House of Representatives in the 102nd District, and 1000 Friends of Connecticut, an advocacy group.
Participants talked about ways to encourage “smart growth” in local towns — which they generally defined as building close to town centers and preserving open space — as well as to reform the tax system.
State Rep. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, who is the head of a state legislative Smart Growth Working Group, noted that Connecticut puts the greatest reliance on property taxes in generating money. That can cause problems for people whose home values rise faster than their incomes, as has been common in many Shoreline towns with high property prices.
Sharkey said that some steps the group is considering include allowing towns to pool together to purchase supplies or to develop regional development plans and share some revenues. He added that a long-term change to the tax system would integrate items like housing, transportation and economic development and use regional partnerships to create efficiency.
“There is an overreliance in the state on property tax,” he said. “You want to have a good mix of tax revenue sources and in most states that includes an income tax, a property tax and a sales tax. … We have sort of an off-kilter three-legged stool in Connecticut.”
The General Assembly’s Legislative Task Force on Property Tax Reform and Smart Growth has been working since March to address some of the problems with the tax system. Sharkey said the group plans to introduce a package of bills around the issue in the next legislative session.
“The property tax problem is a much, much bigger problems than just lowering your tax bills,” Sharkey said Saturday. “It has to do with much more, which is about making Connecticut competitive.”
In 2007, Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed a Democratic tax plan that would have raised income taxes on the wealthy and lowered them for middle-class residents.
State Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, noted that he voted against the 2007 tax bill because he was worried it could create instability in the system.
“Much of (the wealth in Connecticut) comes from the stock market,” he said. “That’s an issue for Connecticut because we’ll be basing our budget on a much more volatile source of income.”
State Sen. Edward Meyer, D-Guilford, said that in order for towns to generate property tax revenue, he favors building close to existing town centers in order to avoid sprawl. He pointed to the proposed Madison Landing development in Madison as an example of a project that was approved partly for tax reasons.
“This happened because the town of Madison, like many towns, is property-tax starved,” he said. “Land-choice decision was made because of property taxes (is) very, very unfortunate and yet it’s happening all across the state of Connecticut.
Meyer’s Republican challenger in the race, Ryan Suerth, said he agrees with the smart growth concept.
“It’s not political, it’s just common sensical,” he said. “We need to have a nonpartisan approach.”
He added that he also wants to make Connecticut “a more business-friendly state” in order to offset some of the burden on homeowners.