NB Politicus

Council Committee To Hear Move To Weaken Anti-Blight Ordinance, Proposal To Increase Senior Tax Relief

Posted in blight, city government by nbpoliticus on July 2, 2014


By John McNamara

Housing and taxes are usually topics as hot as this week’s weather and both are on the agenda of the Common Council’s Committee on Administration, Finance and  Law at 7 p.m. today at a City Hall public hearing and meeting.

Four Republican aldermen have proposed changes to the city’s anti-blight ordinance that would reduce fines and penalties that can be imposed on absentee landlords for neglecting or walking away from multi-unit housing.  Revisions would also amend some definitions of what constitutes “blighting conditions” but leaves most of them intact.

At issue is how tough the city will be on absentee owners responsible for blight.  The current ordinance states that blighted properties will be subject a fine of $250 per blighted condition per day after a 30-day grace period. The fine will double if not paid within 10 days of issuance. The proposal advanced by Ald. Willie Pabon, Don Naples, Jamie Giantonio and Lou Salvio would lower the penalties:

When the owner of the property has been found in violation of this article, a blight enforcement official shall issue a ticket for such violation, which ticket shall provide for a fine of ninety dollars ($90.00) per violation payable to the City of New Britain. If any such fine is not paid within fifteen (15) days, a penalty in an amount equal to three (3) times the fine shall immediately become due and payable in addition to the original fine.

No matter how you do the math the $90 fine even when it triples weakens anti-blight enforcement and takes  an important economic tool away from the city to crack down on blight.. Fair housing advocates sends the wrong signal to the bad actors in the city’s rental housing market and  worry that  the Stewart Administration is pushing the change as a sop to out of town landlords for their financial and campaign support in the 2013 election.

Expanding Senior Property Tax Credits

On property taxes, Common Council President Michael Trueworthy is asking the Council Committee chaired by Ald. David DeFronzo to consider expanding senior property tax credits beyond the levels now allowed by the state-mandated program.  The Council extended income levels for senior and disabled residents several years ago without increasing costs in the overall municipal budget.  That legislation, however, was vetoed by the former Stewart administration.

The senior tax relief measure may take on more significance with the adoption of the municipal budget that raised the property tax rate by 11% this year, cut services and raised fees to deal with a structural budget deficit.







Who’s Selling The City’s Water Supply Now? This Time It’s For Real

Posted in selling municipal assets, water resources by nbpoliticus on July 1, 2014

One of the more effective hits on former Mayor  O’Brien’s  2013 campaign was unfounded assertions that he was cutting a deal with the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) to sell the city’s water department — the city’s most coveted natural resource.

None other than ex-Congresswoman turned lobbyist Nancy Johnson was trotted out by the Republican campaign to falsely and deliberately spread the rumor that Mayor O’Brien was getting rid of water assets to the tune of $80 million: a big lie that had its origins in former Mayor Tim Stewart’s talks with the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) about the city’s regional water assets.

Now comes a plan from the second Stewart administration to sell off a piece of the city’s water resources in Southington in exchange for a cool $ 1.2 million from that town’s government.  Southington now pays New Britain a $106,000 annual lease for the water rights.

Mayor Stewart, quoted in her weekly newsletter, assures us that our neighboring town wants the Patton Brook Well for its water plan and that continuing the lease is not an option for either town.

According to the Mayor’s office,  Southington offered to buy the Patton Brook parcel for $200,000. Miraculously, Erin Stewart claims she negotiated a sale for $1 million more, adding one-time revenue to the city.  The Stewart administration insists that the city is not selling any more water reserves at this time.

Reservoir near New Britain and Southington line (www.lenard-eng.com) 

But the devil may be in the details here. And it will be up to a public hearing and the Common Council to get these details and more answers that weren’t provided in the Mayor’s braggadocio about her negotiating skills.

Will that $1.2 million sale price obligate New Britain to do infrastructure work on the city’s dime before the sale goes through?  If that is the case the city’s return on a sell off of one of its natural assets may not even be close to  $1 million. And lost forever is the $106,000 annual income from the longstanding lease with Southington.  

There are also questions as to why the sale income would go into city’s general fund instead of the water enterprise department fund as would be customary in transactions involving the water department.  The Board of Water Commissioners reportedly approved the deal but with only three members present and one of those Stewart-appointed members abstaining.

No one questions that the city — its structural deficits acknowledged by the current and past mayor — could use revenue over what property taxes and state aid provide.  But the selling of public land and natural resources for short term gain is a risky proposition that may cost the city more in the long run.

The public needs to  know a lot more about this sales contract before it is approved by the Council and signed by the administration.