Source: Kimberly Drelich, The Day
The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities is trying to drive the conversation that affordable housing does not exist without affordable property taxes.
Joe DeLong, the executive director and CEO of CCM, shared that message with The Day’s Editorial Board on Monday and called for the state to address property tax reform. He said the lack of property tax reform makes the state less competitive and particularly affects seniors and low-income people.
CCM in the last few years has been out front discussing the need for more housing and the need for workforce housing, Delong said. While there may be some disagreement on the best way to do that, he said overall CCM thinks it’s important to create a better environment for housing in Connecticut.
But DeLong said the reality is the state’s affordable housing conversation has never included discussions of property taxes. The General Assembly is considering bills for affordable housing, but without addressing property taxes, no housing is ever going to be affordable.
DeLong said that without action in Hartford, property taxes are expected to climb significantly, as federal funds to local municipalities dry up in the next couple of years. Meanwhile, towns and cities will face high energy costs and inflation and increased costs ranging from maintaining buildings to keeping the lights on and fixing potholes.
He said that while it may be good for people at a certain income level to have more housing options, if the state continues to drive property taxes up or doesn’t control taxes, the housing will not end up being affordable to someone who can’t afford that level of property taxes.
If property taxes continue to rise and people are told they have to pay $6,000 a year in taxes, “all the sudden you just made what sounded like it was affordable, unaffordable,” he said.
DeLong said what becomes most frustrating is reforms are not being done to provide the needed relief to offset the expected rise in property taxes.
For example, he believes that if firefighters contract cancer due to their working conditions and die, there should be survivor benefits for their spouse and children. He said that is not unreasonable, but what is unreasonable is that in a state that has a $3.5 billion surplus, legislators want to push the cost onto workers compensation rates that are paid for directly by property taxes, instead of using a budget surplus or targeting a wealthier taxpayer.
Then when property taxes rise, it’s the senior citizen trying to stay in their home who gets pushed out, or it affects the people the state is trying to create affordable housing for, he explained.
He said he thinks the funding for the proposals can be worked out because there are some good conversations happening.
Two key ideas he offered to impact property taxes are to diversify the state’s revenue streams, rather than relying on the property tax “as the single means to fund everything at the local level,“ and to remove barriers that prevent towns and cities from delivering services regionally.
Education funding to be in spotlight
DeLong said that in the coming weeks, CCM plans to launch a campaign around the state’s education funding and thinks the state is in a position to make that funding more equitable.
He said it’s remarkable that one can go to one place in Connecticut where kids are under leaky roofs and have used textbooks, or no textbooks, and then drive 15 minutes down the road where students are going to schools where they may have an indoor swimming pool or a turf field.
He said it’s important to put differences aside on these issues and recognize that every child is entitled to an education that gives them the opportunities they’ll need to compete and do better for themselves and their future families.