The General Assembly acted last week to avert huge property tax increases on homeowners in Hartford, but while minimizing pain in the short term, it was only a stopgap measure.
Unfortunately, it does nothing to solve the problem of the over-reliance on property taxes to pay rising costs of public education.
Under the terms of the plan, city property valuations, which the legislature previously froze at 1999 levels, would be unfrozen in 2007. Taxes on those assessments, however, will increase at a rate of only 3.5 percent a year for five years instead of immediately soaring, thus assuring homeowners that tax increases will remain relatively low until 2012.
The plan also phases out half of the 15 percent surcharge on commercial properties. That should please Hartford business owners.
It also represents a compromise between a proposal submitted by Mayor Eddie A. Perez and one backed by the Hartford business community. Mr. Perez's impractical idea was to eliminate the surcharge entirely and have residents pay no more than 4 percent of their income in property taxes. The business community's suggestion was much closer to the final outcome in that it recommended a 5 percent tax increase over five years and a phasing out of two-thirds of the surcharge.
Under the legislation, the total amount of the tax increases over the five years is not nearly what homeowners would pay had taxes been based on full revaluation. Residential property values in Hartford have climbed so much faster than commercial values in recent years that the true tax increase on residential property would have been in the range of 60 to 130 percent.
Hartford is an example, extreme though it may be, of a problem occurring all over the state in which taxes spiral out of proportion to keep up with the ever-increasing cost of education.
The stopgap tax plan approved as the session came to a close last week gives the legislature another five years to solve the problem. That's plenty of time - if lawmakers have the will.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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