Fort Trumbull tax break fight unproductive

Petitioners in New London trying to undo a City Council vote granting tax breaks to a Fort Trumbull developer are apparently arguing a moot point.

That's good for Fort Trumbull. The last thing the city needs is another delay in developing the long-vacant peninsula that has already been the subject of so much controversy.

It is perfectly understandable that taxpayers resent the special treatment given to River Bank Construction, which is planning the 80- to 104-unit Village on the Thames housing project for 6.5 acres of the former Naval Underwater Systems Center. It is a generous gesture - a 95 percent tax exemption on the rental units for the first five years, followed by 50 percent the sixth year and 25 percent the last. That galls other city property owners struggling to pay their own tax bills.

But councilors decided that without the abatements,
Village on the Thames would never be built. So they unanimously passed a resolution approving the abatements on Aug. 15.

The key word in that last sentence is "resolution." A reading of the City Charter suggests that only "measures" can be petitioned and that a "resolution" is a "measure" only when the council authorizes "the sale or purchase of land, water rights, wharves, ferry property and franchises" or the leasing of any real estate, or the creation or issuance of any bonds. Councilors did none of that on Aug. 15.

But that didn't deter upset taxpayers who filed a petition at City Hall this week calling on the council to repeal the tax breaks, or send the matter to a referendum for voters to decide.

The city attorney advised the City Council Wednesday that the petition is invalid. It's time to move on.

Fort Trumbull has lain fallow for too many years. The city needs to see some progress. If tax abatements are the nudge to make that happen, use them. In 2009, voters in New London renewed the city's commitment to the City and Town Development Act, a state law that allows municipalities to offer tax incentives to developers.

Every five years a majority of voters in a municipality must OK renewing use of the act, and the 2009 approval was the fourth time they did that.

Councilors used the opportunity that voters gave them to entice the Fort Trumbull development.

River Bank will be paying some taxes, $1,000 each year for each unit approved by the city, or up to $100,000 annually. And eventually, when the abatements expire, the development will generate about $450,000 annually in taxes, in current dollars.

It's more than the city is getting now.


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