Everything About Ridgefield Taxes
Learn About Tax Assessment Appeals
Learn about Ridgefield Budgets
Learn About Connecticut
Budgets and Taxes
Appealing Over $1 M
Real Estate Assessments in Ridgefield
Is There a More Economic Way?
According to the Town’s website (https://www.ridgefieldct.org/board-assessment-appeals) Ridgefield’s Board of Assessment Appeals (RBAA) is one of the oldest government agencies, dating back to the colonial times. Under State Law (Conn. Gen. Stat. Title 12) its mandate is to hear challenges to assessed valuation determined by the Town’s Assessor. RBAA is required to hear and determine evidence, deliberate, and vote. It is subject to FOIA, and must publish agendas, keep minutes of its meetings.
Appeals to your property’s assessment, which is initially made by the Town Assessor, Mr. Garzi, or a specialized company that he retains, are first taken to RBAA by filing a simple form, available at the Assessor’s office in the first part of the year after the assessment is made. One can argue that the Assessor has made an error, such as assessing something that does not exist, or assessing something that is actually on someone else’s property. One can also submit in evidence a qualified appraisal, or produce other, detailed real estate market data, contradicting the Assessor’s valuation. Review of RBAA’s minutes for the last three years indicates that most appeals are denied, leaving the aggrieved to petition the Superior Court. These appeals are described as “tax certiorari,” and are usually funneled to a particular Superior Court Term charged with review and final decision.
State Law permits RBAA to defer appeals concerning commercial, industrial, utility or apartment property in excess of $ 1 Million, leaving the aggrieved party in those cases the sole recourse of appealing to the Superior Court, not an inexpensive procedure, and RBAA so resolved this past February. Once any appeal is in court, lawyers, including one paid for by the Town, do what they normally do, but usually settle. Such litigation involves legal fees incurred by the Town, ultimately paid by the taxpayers.
The Town Charter, Sec. 4-13, says little about RBAA other than to establish how many members there shall be, which begs a question: In this year of Charter Revision, should Ridgefield’s Charter Revision Committee, or the Board of Selectmen, or the electors, acting at the Annual Town Meeting, consider allowing RBAA to hear and decide such appeals in the first instance, even though the State Law allows it to “punt” to the Superior Court?
On one hand, this would cost less in legal fees, result in the same “give and take” as court settlement discussions, affording all parties a quicker resolution. Blanket deferral of such appeals might discourage many property owners from appealing at all, due to cost. Large assessments can be complex, perhaps beyond the expertise of the Board, but we must assume that only qualified, knowledgeable candidates will run and be elected. There seems to be little risk in RBAA handling such matters, since appeal to the Superior Court is preserved.
It can be argued that, even though State Law permits RBAA to defer such matters, the People’s right to have their locally elected officials decide them has been forfeited to a more lengthy, costly, and less representative court process. While there might not be that many such appeals now, and now not much cost to the Town now, “sunshine is the best disinfectant.” The best laid schemes of barristers will “gang aft agley” (Robert Burns, “To a Mouse,” 1785) and their machinations should be scrutinized carefully by the public. It may be prudent for voters and government officials to consider this matter in the context of Charter Revision and or Annual Town Meeting this May.
Submitted to: Ridgefield Record
John Tartaglia, Contributing, Free Lance Writer
April 4, 2023
HOW MUCH DO YOU KNOW
ABOUT RIDGEFIELD’S BUDGETS?
The Board of Selectmen (BOS), acting with the Board of Finance (BOF), puts forth the Town (or Municipal) Budget. The Board of Education (BOE) prepares the Public Education (School) Budget. Budgets are generally divided into categories of “Operating Costs” (day-to-day) and “Capital Costs” (structural items, improvements, major equipment). In addition, budgets itemize sources of income, such as taxes, fees, grants, or government funding.
In Ridgefield, budgets are reviewed by the Board of Selectmen (BOS) and the Board of Finance (BOF), but only the BOF can raise or lower the final overall budget number. After hearings and informational sessions, the BOF determines the final overall Budget, and a Public Town Meeting date is scheduled. Capital expenditures under $100,000 can be changed at the Public Meeting; and voted on. After that meeting, the Public Referendum is scheduled, where all Ridgefield registered voters and non-resident property owners, can vote to accept or reject the proposed budgeted expenses (not revenues) in the Town, Education and Capital budgets.
The Town’s (Municipal) portion of the Budget comprises general municipal amenities and services such as police, fire, emergency response, parks & recreation, and Administration. This component is generally well presented by BOS. In addition, the Town pays for and controls, via BOF, its employee pensions and benefits, and these seem relatively well funded, although dented by recent economic conditions. This year’s preliminary Town Budget is $40.9 million, a 3.82% increase over last year’s is still a work in progress.
The school superintendent separately presents her “Budget Book.” https://www.ridgefield.org/accnt_167542/site_167543/Documents/2023-2024-Superintendent-Proposed-Budget-Book.pdf. BOE and the Public review her request. The 2023-2024 Request is $110.6 million, a 3.79% increase. Factors this year: special education; bringing school security in-house; reconfiguring student transportation fleet; energy costs; facility maintenance and upgrade, and, of course, salaries and benefits, this last comprising slightly over 80% of the total. Teachers’ pensions are funded and handled by the State. According to the Connecticut Examiner, teachers’ pensions are only 51.3% funded, leaving Connecticut taxpayers responsible for $18 billion for past services. Total student enrollment is now 4,568, projected to decrease to 4,411 in 2023-2024, a downward trend. Among other things, the ratio between administrative and teaching staff is worthy of further scrutiny. https://sites.google.com/ridgefieldps.net/rpsbudgetinfosite/home The final proposed budget will be determined by the BOF.
The Grand List represents the Assessed Value (AV) of all real and personal property and motor vehicles in Ridgefield. The Assessor determines AV by establishing Fair Market (FMV), which he then multiplies by a state-mandated equalization rate (currently 70%). The tax rate also known as the “Mill Rate” (currently 28.43) is applied for each 1,000 of AV.
Estimated non-tax revenues are subtracted from the approved budgeted expenses to determine the balance to be raised in property taxes, which is divided the Grand List amount divided by 1,000. The result is the amount of Property Tax or “Mill Rate”, which is fixed by BOF.
Example: FMV =$1,000,000.00; multiplied by State equalization rate (70%) AV= $700,000.00; The AV is divided by 1,000 and multiplied by the Mill Rate. e.g AV=$700,000/1,000 = $700 X 28.43 = $19,901.
Voter turnout for the 2022 Budget Referendum was shockingly low. Only 1,185 electors (out of a total of app. 17,000 registered voters and an unknown number of non-resident taxpayers voted.
Ridgefield has a Town Meeting form of government which allows every resident and non-resident taxpayer ($1,000 or more AV) to participate and vote on local budgets and taxes. Without widespread public participation, an essential function of local government will vest in an elite few.
Contributing Staff Reporter
February 7, 2023
How Connecticut's Proposed
Budget and Taxes Affects Us
The 2023 Fiscal Year ends this July and the Democrat administration claims that we will have a $3.2 billion surplus. Has fiscal responsibility finally arrived? Let’s look at the facts. After years of massive deficits, in 2017 a bipartisan agreement was reached to cap spending. That appears to be the driver of budget surpluses in recent years, along with an infusion of federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars. The 2023 surplus has also been a result of high inflation which boosted sales tax revenues, Corporation taxes, and withholding taxes. Three quarters this year saw additional federal grants in the revenue column, along with the last of the ARPA dollars. (Office of Policy Management) Other than moving $800 million outside the spending cap limit this year, the picture looks rosy.
But is this the whole story? Not by a long shot. Connecticut’s unfunded pension liabilities have been a disgrace for years, putting us near the bottom of pension funding charts. The last few budget surpluses, thanks to ARPA, have enabled infusions of cash to bring that indebtedness down to $39.5 billion. Additionally, this administration refinanced the pension funds three times in the last four years, pushing the debt burden onto Connecticut citizens in 2030 and 2040. Add to that our Capital bonded debt of $24.154 billion and we have a serious debt problem.
“State officials secured short-term security and less volatile finances for the foreseeable future by adding billions in long-term obligations to do it – a problem future generations of taxpayers may come to resent.” (Ct. Mirror, March 2022)
In this election year, the Lamont administration has decided to implement some of last spring’s Republican plan to reduce taxes. That plan had called for a reduction in income taxes for low and middle income folks, as well as reducing our sales tax, and the diesel tax. It would also eliminate the meals tax, the new highway truck tax, and the income tax on annuities and pensions. Property tax relief would be expanded. The thinking was that the nearly $1 billion windfall in revenue due to high inflation should be returned to families that need relief from inflation. (Senate Republican Leader Kevin Kelly) The administration decided to keep the highway truck tax that began Jan. 1 and the increased diesel tax. They are lowering the income tax rate for middle income earners from 5% to 4.1/2% and for lower income workers from 3% to 2% while increasing tax credits for the working poor. The cost of these tax cuts is projected to be $500 million and, with no proposed budget cuts, the hope is that there will be another inflation windfall in revenue at the end of FY 2024. They claim there will be “no new taxes.”
Well, not exactly. There are some new taxes proposed as well as increases in existing taxes. There is a proposed statewide property tax of 2 mills on both commercial and residential property at assessed value of $1.5 million or more. This would not only affect wealthy homeowners, but also business owners and landlords of multifamily housing. Rents would necessarily increase, creating further hardship for renters in inflationary times. There is HB 5990 to study the feasibility of mileage based user fees on us when we use our highways, and they would like to increase our property tax valuations from 70% to 75% and add 3 mills to our tax liability, unless individual towns lower their mill rate by 3 mills. Should these ideas be implemented, Connecticut residents will only suffer.
Proposed increases in existing taxes cannot be overlooked. An Act Increasing the Rate of the Corporation Business Tax from 7 ½% to 11 ½% will not entice businesses to locate in Connecticut. Neither will keeping the “temporary” business surcharge of 10%. The gasoline tax holiday is set to expire in June, which will feel like a tax increase to all of us still struggling with high gas prices. Between the new truck tax, the higher diesel fuel tax, and a resumed gas tax, we can expect local goods and services to cost us more than ever. And finally, there is a proposed 5% increase in the Capital Gains Tax and income from dividends and interest. The Yankee Institute has a large chart of Connecticut’s 344 Sources of Revenue. The bottom 200 of these revenue sources are mostly nuisance fees that account for 0.22% of Connecticut’s revenue. (Does it cost more than that to collect these fees?) So while the CT Inside Investigator reports that Connecticut residents have the second highest per capita income in the nation, it is no wonder that so many of us feel poor!
In February 2023 the Governor’s Economic Report noted that our Gross State Product was up 4% in 2022, but that still trailed the rest of New England. Its forecast is for flat economic growth going forward with negligible to flat job growth in the coming years. Connecticut never fully replaced the jobs lost in the 2008 recession and, as of August 2022, we’ve only recovered 86.1% of the jobs lost during the pandemic. Nationally, the country saw a full recovery of pandemic lost jobs by July, 2022. Our labor force today is 51,600, smaller than it was in 2020. (CT Mirror)
Our one party control of the state has had a negative attitude towards both wealth and business for a long time. They raise corporate taxes and have a surcharge besides. They mandate high hourly wages, time off, and shut-downs during Covid without concern for how a business would survive. So corporations move to friendlier states. General Electric moved their headquarters a few years ago, taking 800 jobs with them. Now LEGO is moving out and Pepperidge Farm plans to move their headquarters soon. High taxes and redistribution of wealth schemes cause corporations and wealthy citizens to flee. The Pioneer Institute in Massachusetts in a 2021 study found that Connecticut’s tax policies of 2009, 2011, and 2015 caused a loss of $12 billion in adjusted gross income between 2012 and 2018, and 64% of that was from those earning over $200,000 per year.
The outlook does not have to be so bleak. Instead of offering subsidies to companies to entice them to come to Connecticut, which has failed, let’s try reducing corporate tax rates and regulations to be competitive with Florida, Texas, Indiana, etc. Get rid of the nuisance fees that may cost more to collect than add to our coffers. Eliminate redistribution of wealth schemes for all but the truly needy, get out of the housing business, and stop subsidizing lobbyists such as Desegregate CT. Today’s officials need to re-think their ideology…..or perhaps we need a change in politicians.
If Connecticut becomes a low-tax welcoming state, companies will come, jobs will proliferate, and we all will thrive.
February 23, 2023
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