By Kate Ramunni
HAMDEN – Motor vehicle tax bills will be going out late in Hamden because of the lack of a state budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year that starts Saturday.
The town doesn’t want to send out the bills until it’s sure what the state-imposed cap on the mill rate for vehicles will be, according to Mayor Curt Balzano Leng.
“Essentially, the state had indicated on several levels and many occasions that the car mill rate will remain at least the 37 mills it was last year,” Leng said. “That said, they have not passed legislation adjusting the law, so currently it remains with the language previously approved last year by the state, which was 32 mills.”
The state legislature first set a cap on motor vehicle taxes last year in order to bring some parity to what residents pay regardless of in which city or town they live. Previous to that, motor vehicles were taxed at the same mill rate as were properties, which meant that someone who owned a car in municipalities with high mill rates could pay double or more in taxes than someone who owns the same exact car in a municipality with a low mill rate.
For example, taxes for a car with an assessment of $5,000 for someone living in Shelton, where the mill rate is 22.31, would cost $111.55, while for the same car in Hamden, with a mill rate of 45.35, the tax bill would be $226.75. The difference is even more dramatic when considering a city like Hartford, where the mill rate is 74.29. That same car would cost a Hartford resident $371.45.
Last year the legislature set the cap at 32 mills for the next two years, but then raised that to 37 mills for the current fiscal year when local leaders of municipalities with higher mill rates questioned how they would make up the difference. The state increased the cap and made accommodations to reimburse the money municipalities would lose to the cap.
The bill passed last year called for the cap to decrease to 32 mills this year, but likely won’t due to the state’s worsening fiscal condition. But the legislature has to officially amend the bill to keep the cap at 37 mills, which hasn’t yet happened.
The legislature still hasn’t approved a state budget for FY2018, despite the fact that the new fiscal year begins on Saturday, and there’s a good chance it won’t have a budget in place by then. That leaves municipalities unsure of exactly how much state aid they will receive.
The Legislative Council approved a FY18 town budget and set the mill rate earlier this month. Leng had vowed to cut the mill rate this year, and the budget the council approved includes a one-tenth of a mill decrease, the first tax cut in more than a decade.
But that budget is still dependent on the town getting all of the state aid and revenues estimated for the next fiscal year, and any changes could jeopardize that cut. Should the state not revise the motor vehicle cap bill to continue it at 37 mills and instead go with the 32 mills included in the bill, everything could change.
“Our overall mill rate reduction for homes and property would be negatively affected if the state didn’t finalize the continuation of the 37 mill rate given all our other expected state changes,” Leng said.
But it’s likely the motor vehicle cap will remain at 37 mills for the next fiscal year, one Hamden representative said.
“I am confident that the mill rate cap for cars will remain at 37,” Rep. Michael D’Agostino, D-91, said.
But because it’s not set in stone, Hamden’s motor vehicle tax bills won’t go out with the property tax bills this week, Leng said. “Recognizing these restrictions, we chose to delay the billing to ensure full compliance with existing law and to reflect any legislative changes to the mill rate tax cap,” he said. “In doing this, the town will avoid the additional cost and confusion that could be caused by sending out bills twice, first at the current 32 mill cap, and then having to send a supplemental bill when the expected state law is adjusted. We decided to be cautious and try to save resource by not sending one car tax bill now and then a supplemental bill for what the state change it to in a few months.”
They don’t know when the car tax bills will go out, Leng said, but residents will have 30 days from the date they are issued to pay without penalty. Real estate and business personal property bills are in the mail and payment is due by Aug. 1, after which interest will be charged.
“We fully recognize the major inconvenience for local taxpayers caused by state’s continued budgetary troubles and failure to adopt a state budget prior to the start of our fiscal year,” Leng said. “We continue to advocate for changes that will be helpful to our taxpayers and impress upon the state the urgent need to complete the budget process – especially in key time-sensitive areas such as this.”