Whenever even a rumor of a property tax increase came out of City Hall over the last generation you could count on one group of citizens to make noise and try to mobilize residents against any change in the mill rate.
The New Britain Citizens’ Property Owners Association (CPOA) had a reputation as a group of outspoken conservatives who never saw a tax rate or tax hike they liked. It didn’t matter who held office or what the revenue needs were for the city in a particular year. CPOA leaders rose up as citizen gadflies to challenge taxes and spending.
Flashback to former six-term Mayor William “Billy Mac” McNamara in the 1980s, who upon hearing the group’s complaints once too often, took to referring to the acronym CPOA as the “Communist Party Of America” — a slap in the face to the right-leaning CPOA membership.
In 2014 the prospect of a 4.88 mill rate increase is more than a rumor. City government is looking to cut spending by the millions and is even contemplating a nuclear option of borrowing money from banks to pay for operations.
Nary a word has been heard from these self-appointed guardians of the public purse about a tax increase and cutting the “frills” out of local government. The last update on the CPOA’s website for its members was six months ago. And you can bet there’ll be continued silence about the current Stewart Administration’s spending during a “spending freeze.”
Wouldn’t a legitimate property taxpayer group be raising questions about:
– GOP Republican Chair Peter Steele’s $45,000 part-time job in the mayor’s office with nebulous job responsibilities;
– The return of Stewart for Mayor fundraiser Ken Malinowski at $102,000 to municipal development where the misuse of federal funds administered by Malinowski under former Mayor Stewart raised concerns with federal officials and led to Malinowski’s departure two years ago.
– The apparent signing of the Republican-leaning lobbying firm, Gaffney Bennett & Associates, by Mayor Stewart at $48,000 for as yet to be announced consulting work. If correct, this inexplicable expense comes after the New Britain legislative delegation has reached out and met with the Mayor more than once to address city business in Hartford.
Such spending would normally be juicy stuff for the “oldest tax-payer advocacy group in the State of Connecticut” (founded in 1924) committed to “a long tradition of fighting for the property owning tax payers of New Britain.”
Over the last decade, however, the CPOA clearly lost its mojo and independence. Through eight years of Tim Stewart ‘s mayoralty, no dents were ever made in city spending. Ominously, the elder Stewart kept counting fictitious sales of development land and ignoring pension obligations as a Democratic Common Council (made weaker by charter change) went along. The CPOA ignored these financial mortal sins but continued to love Tim Stewart for his effectiveness at keeping dollars for education to a minimum.
Stewart administration apologists, including those in the CPOA leadership, continue to pin all of the blame for the city’s deep fiscal hole on inflated revenue projections of the one-term O’Brien administration. As noted by the New Britain City Journal, the New Britain GOP’s mouthpiece:
All of New Britain’s fiscal woes started 24 months ago when Tim O’Brien took office. Up to that time the prior Stewart Administration over eight years was the nadir of fiscal responsibility.”
Not even Mayor Stewart has had the gall to promote this lie, leaving her allies in the CPOA and the yellow journalism of the City Journal to play the blame game. Stewart’s own forensic audit found much the same as Mayor O’Brien’s audit when he took office. The city’s fiscal troubles date back more than a decade and were largely created by the former Stewart administration’s one-shot revenues and fiscal gimmicks that were the opposite of fiscal responsibility.
The transformation of the CPOA into a wholly-owned subsidiary of the New Britain GOP is a development that creates opportunity. The CPOA, always opposed to adequate school funding and absent from debates about reducing tax regressivity, won’t be missed by residents in need of tax equity and fundamental change. It’s taken on too much partisan baggage to be taken seriously.
At the state level House Speaker Brendan Sharkey has taken the first steps toward meaningful property tax reform in years. These reforms include relieving localities of the cost of special education and reducing the burdens of the property tax on homeowners and tenants, particularly in economically distressed cities.
The situation invites a new kind of citizens’ group here that is independent of either major political party and is committed to tax fairness, equity in school funding and responsible budgets.
There’s no better time to organize “New Britain Citizens For Tax Fairness” than now.