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Cities, towns consider waiving property tax interest for furlouged federal workers

January 25, 2019

Property taxes are due by Jan. 31 and, with no end in sight for the federal government shutdown, local municipalities are scheduling special meetings and adding last-minute items to agendas to waive interest penalties on overdue taxes for federal workers who haven’t received paychecks for five weeks.

Cities and towns in Connecticut had no authority to waive the interest penalty of 1.5 percent per month on overdue property taxes. But a provision to allow municipalities to waive the penalties was included in a new state law approved by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Ned Lamont on Tuesday.

The Preston Board of Selectmen approved the waiver Thursday night, adding the item to its regular meeting.

First Selectman Robert Congdon said Lamont initially asked the towns to consider waiving interest on property taxes, but municipal leaders told the governor the towns did not have that authority without state legislation. “Within days,” Congdon said, the General Assembly approved the measure.

“I don’t imagine there’s a huge number in town,” Congdon said, “but there’s some.”

The Preston board approved the waiver unanimously, citing provisions spelled out in the state law.

The statute allows affected federal employees who verify their eligibility with their cities and towns to be eligible for the interest waiver on real estate, personal property and motor vehicle taxes for up to 60 days “after the date on which an individual is no longer an affected employee.” After that, any portion of the unpaid tax bill would be subject to the interest retroactive to the original due date, the statute says.

The New London City Council has scheduled a special meeting for 5 p.m. Monday in Council Chambers to vote on a resolution approving the interest waiver for affected federal workers. It’s the only item on the agenda.

“We put together everything we need,” New London Mayor Michael Passero said of the resolution and verification forms needed. “We don’t want them to be scratching to put their pennies together to pay their property taxes by Feb. 1. It should be done in five minutes.”

The Ledyard Town Council also will hold a special meeting at 5 p.m. Wednesday to vote on the waiver resolution.

Norwich officials said they plan to place the proposed resolution on the council’s regular meeting agenda Feb. 4, with the waiver retroactive to all property taxes due since the shutdown started Dec.22, city Corporation Counsel Michael Driscoll said.

The Groton Town Council at its Committee of the Whole meeting on Tuesday unanimously recommended forwarding the resolution to the Feb. 5 regular Town Council meeting. Groton City will discuss the issue at its Committee of the Whole meeting Monday, city Mayor Keith Hedrick said Thursday.

“I’m very glad that the Groton Town Council is seeking to help those that are affected through this difficult time,” Groton Town Manager John Burt said. “I just hope the issue is resolved soon to help the employees get back to their normal lives.”

Waterford and Montville officials also said they plan to discuss the proposal at upcoming meetings.

Montville Tax Collector Karen Gauthier said the town was “very supportive of the federal employees going without pay,” and with approval from the Town Council would look to offer deferments “to help them any way we possibly can.”

But while officials in several local towns expressed strong support for the waiver, Waterford First Selectman Dan Steward was hesitant. The Board of Selectmen may discuss the issue in the coming weeks, he said.

“I feel for these people that don’t have a paycheck. I get it,” Steward said, noting he had friends serving in the Coast Guard. “But there’s been no exception for years. All of the sudden because of the shutdown, it seems like we’re making a case for a select group of people, which is difficult. It’s difficult to enforce. You don’t know the risks here for residents, how many people we’re talking about, and people have had six months to pay their taxes since they were issued. We still need to discuss it.”

To help with the last-minute nature of the state law and the upcoming Jan. 31 deadline for paying the second installment of property taxes, the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities provided member cities and towns with a one-page resolution with references to the state law that defines an “affected employee,” a verification form and the provisions for ending the waiver.

Day Staff Writers Benjamin Kail, Kimberly Drelich and Amanda Hutchinson contributed to this report.

c.bessette@theday.com

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