March 7, 2019
Has it already been a month since “Speak Up XXVIII?” Tempus fugit!
Members of the public in a packed Weston Library Community Room presented the officials assembled onstage with well over a dozen questions. Five of them dealt with education, and how we pay for it.
Do you think that League of Women Voters of Weston event had some impact? Were the local officeholders and State legislators onstage paying close attention?
I would certainly say so! The second question presented was about protecting the Weston Public School system from unwanted regionalization. This was asked by someone who does not have children in school.
More pleas to keep the State of Connecticut out of our hair and especially our pockets followed. Make no mistake, there will be consequences if funding of the Connecticut Teachers’ Retirement System (“TRS”) is off-loaded to municipalities.
Also, Connecticut has long had a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (“PILOT”) program. This program provides payments to municipalities in lieu of local property taxes for property owned and used by the State. The payment corresponds to a percentage of the local taxes that would be paid if the property were not exempt from taxation.
As things stand now Connecticut cannot afford the PILOT program, given the financial mess the State finds itself in. In fact they have never fully funded it, with payments in most cases amounting to something like 45% of the tax revenue a municipality would collect were it not for the exemption. So where will legislators in Hartford look for these funds?
One place they are looking is made evident in proposed Senate Bill 431, “An Act Concerning Property Tax Reform.” It would establish a one-mil State-wide tax on real property, subject to certain limitations. It would also abolish municipal property taxes on motor vehicles and replace them with a State-wide tax of between 15 and 19 mils. Part of these new revenues would be used to help fund PILOT program payments.
An argument goes like this: Who hosts regional entities such as hospitals, colleges, and theaters? Who provides facilities for processing or recycling of garbage? The answers, of course, are that towns and cities do.
These regional functions create traffic in municipalities. Municipalities are home to buildings hosting educational, religious, and other non-profit entities. These and other land uses are not on the municipal tax rolls.
Such issues, together with the passion with which audience members at Speak Up presented their questions, must certainly have made an impression on our legislators. And reinforced the notion that there would be accountability if towns are forced to pay for agreements they did not make.
I perceived a palpable trust in the audience at Speak Up that they could get results by standing up and, well, speaking up! Whether in regard to the aforementioned issues, or speaking in support of early voting, or reaching out for help on neighborhood traffic issues, Speak Up mattered to the Westonites who attended.
On another note, the Weston Town Hall Meeting Room was the location last week for a visit by Governor Lamont, arranged by Senator Haskell. It featured a closed door pow-wow with multi-town leadership. A press conference was held following the meeting.
Have you ever noticed the panel on the West Point Doors in that room depicting the Boston Tea Party? Ironic, isn’t it, considering a proposal in the Governor’s budget message that would broaden the sales tax.
“About Town” is also a television program. It appears on Fridays from 5:30 to 6 p.m. and on Saturdays from 10 to 10:30 a.m. on Cablevision Channel 88 (Public Access). Or see it at www.aboutweston.com.