Isn't Mumford Cove tax break enough?

In a recent editorial we expressed our consternation concerning the fence the Mumford Cove Association installed last fall at the end of Neptune Drive, blocking access to and from a town-maintained, public trail between Haley Farm State Park and Bluff Point Coastal Reserve.

Our closer examination of the property tax privileges enjoyed by the association and its neighbors has only added to our dismay over the action.

Consider that the Mumford Cove Association (MCA) owns an extensive swath of prime waterfront, including a sandy beach along a lagoon bordering the largest undeveloped coastal preserve between New York and Cape Cod, but pays less than $15 a year in property taxes on it.

Meanwhile, residents in the neighboring, even more upscale community, pay annual taxes amounting to less than $30 a year for their expansive beach and tennis courts, also off limits to the public.

Peak swimming season will soon arrive, and coincidentally, so will tax bills, so one might reasonably question why the MCA pays that mere $14.88 in levies for the 16-acre strip that includes a beach restricted to Mumford Cove residents. Or why, similarly, the Groton Long Point Association (GLPA) pays a total of $28.54 in taxes for a beach and tennis courts available only to residents of that private subdivision that shares a border with Mumford Cove.

Groton Town Manager Mark Oefinger and Town Assessor Mary Gardner explained that developers carved up individual house lots decades ago but set aside large common areas, including beaches and tennis courts, for exclusive use by residents. Because rights to use these facilities are written into homeowner deeds, they cannot be sold separately and therefore have only nominal value for taxation purposes.

Establishing community areas that are valued well below assessments of surrounding properties has been a common practice for years across the country, which municipalities have periodically challenged, and lost.

Here in Connecticut, the state Supreme Court essentially put the issue to rest when, in a 2008 ruling, it found in favor of a homeowners’ association in Granby on the Massachusetts border. That town had attempted to increase the assessments on three parcels owned by the Breezy Knoll Association that included a commonly-owned parking lot, tennis court and strip of waterfront on Bantam Lake. The court ruled that easements and restrictions designed to ensure community use prevented them from being sold at market value. Therefore, the parcels could only be appraised at a nominal amount, despite the high-value setting.

This may seem unfair to average taxpayers who typically pay thousands of dollars a year more on considerably less extravagant properties – but in overall valuations for Mumford Cove and Groton Long Point, “it all balances out,” the Groton assessor said. That’s because homes in these neighborhoods are assessed considerably higher than those in other parts of town, in large part because of the beaches, tennis courts and of course, privacy — so collectively, it can be argued, the town takes in its fair share of taxes.

For instance, the median assessment for a single-family home in Groton, not including Mumford Cove or Groton Long Point, is $144,620. The median assessment for a single-family home in Mumford Cove is $397,530; in Groton Long Point, $537,425. Therefore, median Mumford Cove property tax bills are nearly triple and Groton Long Point’s nearly quadruple those in the rest of town.

For many, though, the privacy issue is what especially rankles, and Town Manager Oefinger said the town would not allow either Groton Long Point or Mumford Cove to be built today with their residents’-only beaches.

“We would fight it,” he said, by requiring developers of waterfront properties to guarantee public access. This was one of the mandates of Connecticut’s Coastal Management Program, which since its adoption in 1980 has added 12.5 miles of shoreline now open to the public.

So while the town cannot insist these wealthy communities live by rules passed long after their creation, opposition to this newer restriction — a fence — would be in order.

 

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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