Port authority chairman says Crystal Avenue tract was not on tax rolls

To recap, let’s remember New London is trying to sell the 12 acres of land under the now empty low-income apartment towers on Crystal Avenue, a sale that is problematic because of the significant amount of money it will take to tear down the buildings and remediate the property.

Two bids have been submitted. One bidder, a private company, released a copy of its proposal, one that involves the city spending hundreds of thousand of dollars in remediation, after which the land would be privately owned and taxable.

The other bid, submitted by the Connecticut Port Authority, remains secret. Neither Mayor Michael Passero nor Scott Bates of Stonington, the deputy secretary of state who chairs the port authority board, will release it.

I know, it’s shocking to think a state-funded public agency would try to acquire public property in secret, without any public discussion of what its intentions are. But that’s what’s going on, in plain sight.

It feels like they want to expand State Pier and maybe facilitate the assembly of offshore windmills on the 12 acres on Crystal Avenue. If that’s the case, why can’t the rich international windmill developer who has the sweet deal to sell expensive electricity to Connecticut ratepayers buy the land, remediate it and pay city taxes?

Why won’t anyone talk about it?

Bates, who arrogantly won’t return phone calls from The Day newsroom, did appear on conservative talk radio last week and, lo and behold, made a few vague comments about the state’s designs on Crystal Avenue.

Most worrisome, he recounted how, when someone confronted him recently about the idea of the state taking the property off the city tax rolls, he observed that the property wasn’t taxed when owned by the New London Housing Authority.

Buzzer please. Wrong answer. The point is the city owns it and should want to put it productively on the tax rolls. This is a city that endlessly blames its problems on the lack of taxable property.

To get some better perspective on the issue, I took a stroll, guided by competent city staffers, through city tax records to see what a leach State Pier already is on the city.

The total assessed value of the state property in the vicinity of the pier is close to $30 million, with a potential tax bill due to the city of $1.2 million, if it were owned by someone not exempt.

Indeed, the entire assessed value of all state property in the city is $58.4 million, with a potential tax bill of $2.3 million. Instead, the state pays the city $295,665 in payments in lieu of taxes. Ouch.

Imagine the haircut in taxes the city would take if the port authority were to acquire Crystal Avenue instead of a private buyer.

The property now has an assessed value of $1.5 million, high because that assessment was for the high-rise towers in use. With that assessment, a tax of $68,127 would be due.

If the state were to buy it, the city might barely make enough to fuel up some of its trash trucks.

Watch soon for the tight-lipped politicians, and I include the entire regional delegation to the General Assembly, start talking about how much an expansion of State Pier will help the city. I don’t see it, beyond more sales at liquor stores and grinder shops in Hodges Square.

Never mind the strain on city services and infrastructure, as all those Trojan trucks bearing windmill components start barreling off Interstate 95.

I am all for an expansion of State Pier and making it a hub for developing an offshore industry. Bring on the jobs. How about a promise that a percentage of those jobs go to people who live in New London?

Watch instead for some crumbs to fall off the table, when the now-mum city and state leaders announce what the windmill folks will give back in a host agreement for New London.

I just don’t want to see New London cheated again out of a fair share.

And the silence of all the politicians making these deals and decisions behind closed doors is appalling.

This is the opinion of David Collins.



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