City fire tax shift could be boost for downtown Norwich

Norwich - If the proposal to eliminate the central city fire tax and spread the cost of the paid fire department citywide had been in place for the past five years, the tax reduction to property owners in the urban center would have been much greater than the tax increase in outlying areas.

City Comptroller Joshua Pothier analyzed the city's tax rates and tax bills for an average home assessed at $126,000 for the past five years and projected the results of the proposed major change in tax structure on those bills.

Norwich currently has a citywide tax rate to cover the general government and school budgets, while property owners in the central city district pay an additional tax to cover the cost of the paid fire department. Property owners in the five volunteer districts pay a much smaller additional tax to cover volunteer firefighter pensions.

Two proposed ordinances sponsored by Mayor Deberey Hinchey and Alderwoman Sofee Noblick would eliminate both levies and pay for both costs through citywide taxation. The City Council on Monday is expected to schedule a future public hearing on the two ordinances.

According to Pothier's analysis, if the change had been made this fiscal year, a homeowner in the City Consolidated District (CCD) with a house valued at $180,000 and assessed for $126,000 would have paid $382 less in real estate taxes. The owner of a house with the same value in a volunteer fire district would have had paid an additional $208 in taxes.

The differences would have been similar but not as large in the previous four years, but the results of the study pleased Hinchey, who said the proposal was made to equalize taxation citywide by lowering the burden downtown.

All of the city's top 10 taxpayers are outside the CCD.

Proponents of the change argue that the paid fire department, which has a budget of $4.1 million this year, is a general benefit to all taxpayers, because the department protects numerous public buildings and public service buildings.

"This is about making things equitable and making things more attractive for people to live in the downtown," Hinchey said.

Jason Vincent, vice president of the Norwich Community Development Corp., said the change could boost downtown revitalization efforts. City voters approved $3.38 million in incentive programs managed by NCDC for downtown revitalization, but progress has been slow.

"We've had a number of businesses down here complaining about that additional burden," Vincent said. "It may take a little bit of pressure off the building owners so they can invest in their building if their tax burden is reduced. That reduction could end up being an asset to the community."

c.bessette@theday.com

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