Referendum flier misleading, officials say

Friday, July 3, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

OLD SAYBROOK — Town officials are crying foul over what they called a “misleading” flier about next week’s referendum that features the logo from the town’s Web site.

The unsigned flier, which uses the Web site banner as letterhead, urges residents to vote at a referendum Thursday to delay the implementation of the 2008 revaluation.

A group of residents has been working for several months to delay the revaluation from last October, which they say is not accurate because of the recession. Jean Castagno, a member of the Old Saybrook Taxpayers Association, said the group has registered as a political action committee.

Castagno said the flier did not come from OSTA, and all communications from the group are signed.

First Selectman Michael Pace said he was worried that residents might think the flier had come from the town. He noted that it is illegal for the town to expend funds on swaying the election.

The referendum stems from a revaluation last year in which housing values rose 32 percent overall, according to the assessor’s office. The taxpayers group said the revaluation overvalued properties given the economic slump, and asked the Board of Selectmen to put aside the increase.

But Pace said that figures from the assessor’s office show that sales since the revaluation have been within a few percentage points of the assessor’s values. According to the assessor’s office, taxes would decrease for about half of the town’s residents with a tax rate based on the revalued grand list.

The bill passed by the General Assembly this year that became law allows towns that were due for revaluations in 2008, 2009 or 2010 to delay the revaluation until 2011 with the approval of the town’s legislative body. A petition from some residents called a town meeting to vote on whether to delay the revaluation, and the meeting adjourned to the referendum scheduled for July 9.

Pace said a full physical revaluation in 2011 would cost $600,000. Under the normal schedule, the next revaluation would be in 2013, five years after the most recent one.

Castagno said that the taxpayers group has received different figures for the cost of the revaluation, and she added that it would have to take place in 2011 or 2013.

“The whole five-year plan has been altered by this piece of legislation, so there will be one in 2011 and then in 2016, the next five-year period,” she said. “The money amount will be the same in 2011 as it would be in 2013.”

Castagno said she did not know the source of the controversial flier, which encourages people to copy and distribute it. The Register received no response to a message sent to an e-mail address included in the flier.

Pace said he had asked the town attorney to look into the flier and any possible election law violations.

“People have a right to vote how they want, they have a right to put information out, but there are laws for that and the first thing is you can’t use somebody else’s name, let alone government, to try to negatively influence what government’s position is,” Pace said.

Joan Andrews, an attorney with the State Elections Enforcement Commission, said it did not appear the flier violated election law, but it could violate other state law.

The referendum is scheduled for Thursday from noon to 8 p.m. at Old Saybrook High School.

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