Several prominent Hartford business owners spoke out Monday against Mayor Eddie A. Perez's proposed $552 million budget for next year, saying their taxes were out of control and could force them to lay off workers and consider moving.
Perez's spending plan includes a $26.3 million increase over current spending, and requires a 9.9 percent rise in the tax levy. In addition to the annual increase, hundreds of small businesses in the city are also seeing massive increases in their tax bills because of a 2006 revaluation of their property.
Kelly D'Aprile, owner of D&D Market and other properties in the city's South End, said that under the mayor's plan his taxes will have increased by 55 percent over the past two years, from about $88,000 to $136,000.
"I don't know too many small business people who at that rate can afford it," D'Aprile said in the public hearing portion of the council meeting. "How much more do you think we can afford? And you still expect us to stay in business in the city?"
D'Aprile said that as the economy worsens, he tries to adjust his business with it, cutting where he can. But, he said, the financial pressures come from all directions. He said he has customers from the Hartford suburbs who used to visit his market every week, but because of gasoline prices can only now come once amonth. And while customers were once drawn by specials he'd advertise and then would buy other groceries, they now only buy the special offerings, on which he often takes a loss.
"What has happened?" he said. "We've tried everything we can to cut expenses, but what's next? We will have to cut our employees."
D'Aprile was there with Paul Mozzicato, co-owner of Mozzicato's Bakery on Franklin Avenue, who also said times were tight and rising taxes only added to the trouble faced by the city's most vulnerable businesses.
John O'Connoll, a former city council member and representative for the city's Small Business & Taxpayer Alliance, read a statement to the council from the alliance. He said most of Hartford's small businesses were seeing their tax bills rise faster than the profits of the country's largest oil companies.
Exxon-Mobil has seen a profit growth of more than 17 percent, he said, while on average the city's small businesses have seen their taxes go up 30 percent.
"If the oil companies are being questioned as profiteers, how do you describe the impacts of the city's taxes on small businesses in a struggling economy, where sales, revenues and margins are nowhere near those of oil companies?" O'Connoll said. "We need tax relief now. Some of us may not survive financially until next year."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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