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    Local Columns
    Tuesday, May 28, 2024

    Electric Boat should stop fighting its New London tax bill

    The good Electric Boat news for New London is that the Pequot Avenue office towers the submarine builder bought from Pfizer are crammed full of employees these days.

    You can tell how full the buildings are by the overflow parking all over the adjacent Fort Trumbull neighborhood.

    Electric Boat has so many workers in New London that the on-site parking garage and 21 daily round-trip shuttles from EB's parking lots in Groton are not accommodating everyone.

    Or many of the 2,850 workers who can't fit into EB's New London garage are eschewing the Groton shuttle to park nearby on New London streets and walk to work.

    New London could make a lot of money just by installing parking meters on the many city blocks where EB workers' cars line up all day, in front of the vast tracts of land cleared by eminent domain.

    It was a fortunate turn of events that led Electric Boat in 2010 to acquire the buildings Pfizer had built in New London, at a cost of more than $300 million, for the fire sale price of $55 million.

    No doubt New London merchants and restaurants have noticed the impact of all the EB workers in town. Pfizer never had enough workers in New London to even fill its garage.

    An EB spokesman told me this week that the company has been in talks with the city about finding a solution to the New London parking space shortage, but he declined to elaborate on what is being considered.

    An answer needs to be found. As any zoning officer in almost any town will tell you, businesses need to provide adequate parking for their customers and employees.

    I find it curious that at the same time EB is seeking help from city officials with its parking problems it is also aggressively suing the city over its tax assessment.

    When EB first filed its tax appeal, then City Attorney Thomas Londregan noted that it was unfortunate that the company chose to begin its relationship with the city with a lawsuit. Indeed.

    Londregan also noted then that Pfizer never objected to the tax assessment when it owned the property.

    The city has assessed the EB complex at $222 million, an estimated 70 percent of the fair market value in 2008, not the discounted price EB paid after the real estate market crash.

    Electric Boat has every right, as does every taxpayer, to question its tax bill.

    It just strikes me as unseemly that a big defense contractor, one which depends on the goodwill of taxpayers to fulfill its largely no-bid, mega-million-dollar shipbuilding contracts, would nitpick a tax bill issued by a struggling Connecticut city.

    After all, the city and state invested tens of millions in public funds developing the site in the first place. The land was given to Pfizer even before the drug company expensively built a spectacular office complex on it.

    Now EB, flush with all kinds of new government contracts, balks at paying a $5 million tax bill, which is based on a legal assessment of the property, made before it ever became a bargain.

    I checked this week on the status of EB's aggressive tax appeal in Superior Court and discovered it might be harder to follow in the future, since Judge Thomas Parker granted a company motion for a protective order to guard against the disclosure of "confidential information."

    Lawyers for EB have filed a series of prickly answers to some routine interrogatories filed by city attorneys, looking for information to defend the assessment.

    In one typical response to the city's queries, EB attorneys replied, when asked who was involved in negotiations to buy the Pfizer property, with an objection.

    "Plaintiff objects to the phrase "involved in the negotiations" as vague, ambiguous, and uncertain of meaning," the EB lawyers responded. "Plaintiff further objects to this interrogatory as overly broad, unduly burdensome and not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence."

    There are pages and more pages of answers like this.

    This is no ordinary homeowner appealing a tax bill. This complainant is bankrolled by the U.S. government.

    If you run into U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, or any other members of the Connecticut delegation who have been so successful in securing so much U.S. taxpayer money for EB, maybe you could suggest they tell the company to pay its fair share of city taxes here in Connecticut without complaint.

    Someone should tell EB to yank on their lawyer's leashes and get their teeth off of New London's throat.

    This is the opinion of David Collins

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