Hartford’s Small Business Alliance has been asking the city for a task force to examine the tax burden on small businesses. Well, they got their wish, except it didn’t go quite as planned.
At the August 13 city council meeting, the council approved a resolution that would set up a task force to review and recommend property tax reform options. The task force members will be appointed by the mayor and will include representatives from small businesses in different sections of the city, homeowners, renters, someone representing large taxpayer interests, as well as economists and real estate professionals. It will present its findings in December, before the start of next year’s General Assembly session in January.
The Small Business Alliance, which has been the most vocal organization in opposition to the mayor’s phased-in tax plans, reacted with surprise and disappointment that they weren’t included in the mayor’s task force plans — Alliance members didn’t even know about the resolution ahead of time as request for approval wasn’t on the council agenda for that night.
The SBA said its members have been trying to be team players on this, but are nervous that the mayor will appoint cronies who won’t be truly looking out for small business.
Its lawyer, Gregory Piecuch of Hartford’s O’Connell, Flaherty and Attmore, was skeptical that such a task force could come up with any great solutions in the short time frame: he said the Small Business Alliance has been presenting its own solutions and urging for a task force since early June.
“Why did it take so long for the city to put a task force together?” he wonders.
Piecuch didn’t know what effect the plans would have on the alliance’s moves to possibly sue the city — the group has recently filed a complaint with the state Freedom of Information Commission because Hartford officials have not turned over documents concerning property values and communications between the city assessor and the MetroHartford Alliance.
But such a suit is merely administrative in nature. It is not so adversarial that it would have precluded Perez from bringing to the table those most affected by this problem. Hartford is off to a bad start if it is forming task forces to address the problems of small businesses in Hartford without the up-front involvement of those businesses’ most prominent representative.
Clearly, Mayor Eddie Perez needs to reach out to the Small Business Alliance immediately. Yet if he does so, the SBA members must also realize the value of good politics. They must see such a task force as a group concerned with the overall tax structure in Hartford, and not just a vehicle to ram all future tax increases down the gullet of the city’s big corporations.
What has been lost in much of the diatribe over the tax issue is the simple fact that someone has to pay taxes in this city. We cannot protect homeowners, big business and small business from tax hikes. There’s no one left to tax, unless the city wants to go the way of Virginia’s government, and start giving out $1,000-an-hour parking tickets to non-city drivers.
The Small Business Alliance cannot dig in its heels on this issue. Neither, though, can the city afford to further alienate such an important group of property owners. There’s little enough time for thoughtful discussion between now and December. We shouldn’t waste more carping over broken protocol.