Grand list down, without revaluation
Posted in the Trumbull Forum
#1 Mar 6, 2014
BRIDGEPORT -- A year after City Hall celebrated a near 1 percent increase in the grand list -- the amount of taxable property -- some of those gains were lost.
The grand list decreased from $7,052,118,795 in 2012 to $6,989,972,364 in 2013, according to paperwork the tax assessor filed with the town clerk this week.
The mayor's office blamed the movement on several demolition projects and land purchases by nonprofits.
"This is a less than half-of-1 percent decrease," said Elaine Ficarra, a spokeswoman for Mayor Bill Finch.
It was on track to be worse, though how much remains unclear. Finch's Democratic administration is, for now, closely guarding the results of a mandated Oct. 1, 2013 property revaluation that should have been -- but were not -- used to calculate the 2013 grand list and, ultimately, new tax rates.
"I'm scared about the numbers," said Gail Robinson, a local real estate agent.
Instead, the city relied on less-offensive 2008 data, in the hope that state lawmakers will allow Bridgeport to delay the 2013 revaluation for two years. Otherwise, supporters argue, homeowners and businesses will be badly hurt.
A two-year delay also doesn't hurt Finch's political prospects. He faces re-election in 2015.
But -- used or not -- the revaluation still cost taxpayers a pretty penny. In August, the city hired Vision Government Solutions Inc., for the work. Their contract was for $364,000. It is unclear exactly how far Vision Solutions got, and the mayor's office has not said whether it will make what 2013 information it has available for public scrutiny.
"Taxpayer dollars were spent to get this done. Why can't we see it?" said state Rep. Jack Hennessy, D-Bridgeport.
Rep. Auden Grogins, D-Bridgeport, who lobbied for the delay, said, "I would support being able to see the data."
Ficarra said in a statement Thursday that Vision Solutions only accomplished $289,500 worth of the revaluation.
"Work has not been completed. No final data was issued," she said.
But, at least based on Vision Solutions' contract, the firm should have gotten pretty far. The bulk of the data -- sales, valuations, and market studies -- was initially due to the Tax Assessor for review by early January.
"If it's raw, unchecked data, that's not necessarily a good thing to release to the world," said Council President Thomas McCarthy, D-133. "I don't know what level they're at, so you've got to be careful."
Prior to hiring Vision Solutions, the city tried and failed to convince state lawmakers to delay the revaluation.
In early February, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat who needs Bridgeport to win a potentially tough re-election this year, came to the rescue. Malloy proposed granting Bridgeport and 47 other municipalities a two year delay.
By acting as if the delay is already in place, City Hall has been able to keep the numbers under wraps and avoid much public debate on the pros and cons. The City Council must eventually approve a delay, but technically only after legislation is passed, weakening any input local council members might have.
"Right now, the council doesn't have a role," McCarthy said. Still, he would prefer a briefing sooner, rather than later.
Freshman Councilwoman Trish Swain, D-132, said she wants more information on the revaluation delay.
"It seems we're postponing the obvious," Swain said. "I'd like to hear the justification why we're doing it."
Fred Carstensen, head of the Center for Economic Analysis at the University of Connecticut, said he is "deeply sympathetic" to Bridgeport's economic challenges. But, Carstensen added, even with major redevelopment projects in the pipeline, "You're assuming two years from now it's going to be somehow better."
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