CCM Raises Alarm On Urban Poverty: Report Says Big Cities Struggle To Serve Neediest

CCM Raises Alarm On Urban Poverty: Report Says Big Cities Struggle To Serve Neediest

Waterbury Republican-American, October 4, 2016

By Alec Johnson

HARTFORD – The state’s chief lobbyist for cities and towns on Monday released a report aimed at turning the legislative election conversation toward the plight of the state’s largest cities.

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities studied census data of Waterbury, Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven to find those cities are left with few options other than raising their already high tax rates to make up for the burden of caring for a disproportionate amount of impoverished residents.

“In the state with the nation’s highest per capita income, they are among the poorest cities in the United States,” CCM Executive Director Joe DeLong said. “These four communities bear a disproportionate burden when it comes to providing services for Connecticut’s neediest residents.”

“At the same time, these cities are regional hubs for economic development, health care, and culture,” CCM deputy Director Ron Thomas said. “If these hubs fail, the suburbs around them will also plummet. People won’t move their families or businesses to regions without a strong cultural and work base.”

The four cities have poverty rates that double the state average and account for half of Connecticut’s homeless population. Unemployment in the cities is far higher than their suburban neighbors where 75,000 workers who commute to the cities live.

“The health and sustainability of our central cities and their surrounding suburbs are linked,” the report stated. “We cannot allow Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, and Waterbury to founder.”

Kevin Maloney, a CCM spokesman, said the CCM Candidate Bulletin titled: “Large Cities: Disproportionate Burden” is an up-to-date snapshot of the challenges and some of the successes of the urban issues.

“We think the state needs to play a great role in ensuring their health and success, because as the cities go so go the suburbs and so goes the regional economy and so goes the Connecticut economy,” he said.

CCM, using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2014 American Community Survey, found that 22.8 percent of Waterbury families are living with income below the poverty line while 7.5 percent of Connecticut residents meet that criteria. In Hartford 30.8 percent of families have income below the poverty.

According to the report more than 75,000 Connecticut residents commute from suburbs into one of the four major cities. Waterbury is an employment destination for 22,362 workers with the greatest coming from Watertown at 2,340, Naugatuck at 1,799, Wolcott at 1,694 and Bristol at 1,012.

The cities have higher than statewide unemployment ranging from 11 percent in Hartford to 7.7 percent in New Haven with Waterbury at 8.9 percent. The state average is 5.9 percent.

“If the cities aren’t in a position to thrive that is going to affect job growth in Connecticut and it is going to affect the Connecticut economy,” Maloney said.

Challenges for Waterbury back to top

Waterbury Mayor Neil M. O’Leary said the city is not fairly compensated by the state as it meets the needs of an impoverished population. “The Payment in Lieu of Tax reimbursements have gone down steadily over the past five years,” he said.

THE STATE REIMBURSES CITIES for properties that are tax exempt including colleges and hospitals. In Waterbury 28.9 percent of the city’s taxable property is exempted from property tax. In recent years the reimbursement has been 32 percent of value for colleges and hospitals and 22 percent for state-owned property, though state statutes set reimbursement goals at 45 percent on state owned property and 77 percent on college and hospital property, the report states.

O’Leary, using the example of Waterbury Hospital, which recently lost its nonprofit status when it was bought by a business, said the city has been left without millions of dollars worth of tax revenue each year. If the hospital were taxed on its full assessment, which is north of $100 million, the city would enjoy nearly $9 million in annual tax revenue. But the state reimbursement has been set at $2.45 million in recent years.

“You can clearly see the city is being short changed on the PILOT reimbursement of Waterbury and Saint Mary’s (hospitals) to the tunes of millions and millions of dollars each year. That is extremely unfair to the taxpayers of the city of Waterbury,” he said.

In Hartford more than 50 percent of the grand list is tax exempt, in New Haven 49 percent of property is not taxable and in Bridgeport 30.6 percent on the tax rolls can’t be taxed. The state average is 13.3 percent.

“So basically what we are saying is we provide the services and if our cities aren’t healthy and are faltering it is having a severe impact on the rest of the state as well,” he said.

O’Leary said he commends CCM for compiling the report.

“I think it is high time we look at what is happening in the state as a whole and not just by community by community,” he said.