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Thornton: Senior Tax Relief Prop. Might Be Illegal

by Mary Beth Thornton

Councilwoman Marybeth Thornton today questioned whether First Selectman Tim Herbst’s automobile property tax relief program is legal under state law.

"Mr. Herbst’s recent press release is irresponsible,” Thornton said. “It’s irresponsible to suggest that he can give a tax break to all senior citizens in Trumbull when that is simply not true. It gives our citizens who may be hurting financially the false impression that their taxes will go down if he is elected. Making this statement so close to an election can only be a ploy to trick voters – voters who will be terribly disappointed after the election when they find out Mr. Herbst’s plan is illegal and they get nothing.”

Mr. Herbst’s plan would potentially give any person over 65 years old a $5,000 reduction to their car tax assessment, regardless of their income, for a property tax reduction of approximately  $125.  But under state law, a town can only allow property tax reductions under specific circumstances.  A town cannot enact any tax relief program without the state’s approval. Even those plans that are allowed usually require some showing of financial hardship. No state law allows for the plan suggested by Mr. Herbst.

“Leadership requires telling the truth, and Mr. Herbst and his committee have not been able to do that after working on tax relief for over a year,” Thornton said. “After all that time they should have been able to present a plan to help our citizens that was not illegal. With all of the money he has spent on town attorneys looking at so many minor issues, he should have checked into whether this plan would actually work before giving our seniors false hope.”

Tiredof October 14, 2011 at 03:13 PM
Joan antagonistic? How about Cindy belives that the super works for us not the other way around...and to be honest if i went to my boss and said i need more money for supplies and then my boss found out i had a surpluss and didn't buy those suplies, i don't think i woudl be working there long. Returning 1% isn't good budgeting when you say you are lacking supplies....No offense but i would be curious in what you do for a living. And i think Cindy knows there concerns but she also understand how our super greatly exagirates the schools issues to beef up his budget. he could have simply used the 500k they retunred and bought a few more PCs or books...get real Joan.
Cindy Penkoff October 14, 2011 at 03:13 PM
Joan, I am quite up to date on Trumbull and its education needs, but thanks for your concern. It was also not antagonistic to point Trumbullparent in the appropriate direction for her concerns, it is the BOE and the Superintendent that have the sole responsibility for spending those funds or not spending them as the case has been. If I was going to complain about a teacher I wouldn't take it up with the Chief of Staff now would I. As far as the returned monies I have spoken about this numerous times publicly and have no issue doing it again. You can't give back over $3 million dollars and then complain about things YOU didn't replace and expect not to be called on it. Since when did ignoring the obvious become a way of dealing with things? I disagree with the way things have been handled regarding the Board of Education budgets and their spending habits and have also been vocal about that. Maybe you haven't been paying attention over the last 4 years, but I have. Unlike many that complain about things, here and on other forums, mostly anonymously, I believe in being a part of the solution, not just talking about the problems. We have a fabulous school system and a fabulous town. I would like to see them stay that way, for ALL the people that live here.
trumbulite09 October 14, 2011 at 03:13 PM
Wow Cindy - can't believe your post. If you are going to run for BoE can I explain something to you just in case you get the slight chance of getting in. The BoE proposes an exact budget including line by line what they are going to spend on what. This budget goes to the Board of Finance and the First Selectman. They take those numbers and decide percentage wise what they will approve. If the full amount or any amount is not provided to the BoE (like this year), they were requested to specify by percentage what would be cut. They did that. Therefore, after the fact if they requested X amount of dollars for computers and the Board of Finance or in the case of this year Town Council does not agree on the full increase, computers might be one of the things cut. For them to take money elsewhere to pay for it after telling the town and taxpayers how much they plan to spend would be unethical and deceitful. As for the money returned. Can I enlighten you on that too? That was savings, on spending freezes etc. Kind of like me telling my husband that I need $300 for groceries but I see some specials and use some coupons and only spend $280. I can chose to buy myself something or I can return it to the family budget. I usually return it to the family budget. Scary you don't understand this concept. As for the topic, this tax "proposal" is illegal. Tim as a lawyer should know that. Also should all the lawyers tax payers are paying for.
Cindy Penkoff October 14, 2011 at 03:22 PM
Thanks trumbulite09 for your concern but I have a pretty clear understanding of how the budget works and/or should work. I have attended nearly every BOF, BOE and TC meeting for 3 years. I have gone through the entire budget process for 2 years and was a part of this years budget process as a member of the BOF. And when you have monies left over, like the year they gave back over a million dollars, replacing computers and books should have been at the top of the list.
trumbulite09 October 14, 2011 at 04:17 PM
Cindy - buying the computer or books might be a good idea but prudent is to request money for specific reason. If it is not needed for the specific reason, return it to the overall budget and let the Board of Finance do their jobs. I've been at the meetings too and funny how we both get a totally different perspective. I believe in transparency and honesty.
jg October 14, 2011 at 05:41 PM
Let's deal with these one at a time: #1 Unless our seniors are living in their cars as a primary residence, this proposal is illegal under state statute. Contrary to Cindy's misconceptions, it is not an issue for a tax lawyer. They deal with issues regarding legal options available to taxpayers. This deals with limitations in CT state statute on what preferences taxing authorities (e.g. Trumbull) can give to particular taxpayers. Google "Connecticut Property Tax Relief for Seniors" (without quotes) and you will find an excellent summary of the senior tax programs permissible by law. This proposal does not comply with any of them. #2 - The BoE returned funds because they were spending according to their budget (i.e. responsible and honest budgeting). If they saved money it was returned rather than being shifted to enable spending in other line items beyond what was approved. In the one year in which they did shift significant funds to cover underfunded priorities they were blasted by the FS and his supporters? Cindy, what was your position on those transfers at that time? It also created a significant funding cliff for the subsequent budget season. #3 - It is true that the FS cannot tell the BoE how to spend its money. However, he does recommend a total budget and said that he would provide guidance on where the budget should be cut to comply. #4. Mixing capital and operating expenses belies a lack of understanding of the budgeting process.
jg October 14, 2011 at 05:54 PM
That is false.
Joan October 14, 2011 at 06:01 PM
Then apparently we have the same goal--keeping our schools and our town strong. I have been paying attention, and as a result of that, I do not believe that someone who has as much antagonism as you apparently do towards the Board of Ed is the best choice to serve on that board. And as an FYI, even people who post anonymously may be doing their own part to be "part of the solution." You never know.
Joan October 14, 2011 at 06:07 PM
Get real? That is actually quite amusing coming from you"Tiredof." The schools have been very honest and meticulous in their budgeting. Their check register is online for all to see. (I seem to recall Mr. Herbst promising to do the same for Town Hall two years ago, but that promise was never fulfilled.) Coming within 1% on a budget the size of the Board of Ed's budget is something we should be commending them on, not criticizing them for. They tell the taxpayers what they plan to spend their money on, and when they seek and find efficiencies and return the savings to the town, they are criticized? I think most voters are smart enough to see through these weak arguments. The Board of Ed is following the proper procedure--returning their savings to the town and then requesting a special appropriation when needed for extra expenses.
Joan October 14, 2011 at 06:10 PM
P.S. The Superintendent does not work for "us." He works for the Board of Ed. He is not an elected official. Please correct me if I'm wrong.
Patty Sheehan October 14, 2011 at 06:21 PM
#1-jg makes some very good points about the Senior Tax relief program. #2-I have never heard of another town complaining when one of their town boards does a good job with managing their budget and is therefore able to return funds to the town. That attitude seems to be something that is germane to Trumbull for some reason, with reagrd to returning money being looked upon as a negative rather than a positive. #3- again agreeing with jg that mixing capital and operating supplies shows a lack of understanding of budgeting. I hope we elect people to the BOE who have an understanding of the many facets of budgeting for it, which would include state and federal requirements. I prefer experienced educators in that capacity. trumbilite09, your comments about perpective are spot on. Anais Nin says "We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are".
Thomas Tesoro October 14, 2011 at 06:49 PM
Ms. Penkoff has a limited perspective of three years and I can see why she might draw the incorrect conclusion she has reached. In the past, the BOE would typically pre-buy items for the following year. It was a practice many of us disagreed with as it distorts year over year comparisons. That past practice also led to the infamous "works account" kind of like a parking lot for funds that was zeroed out each year by "pre-buying" insurance. Well, one year someone forgot to spend the money and low and behold there was a surplus in excess of 2 million as I remember. Now, the BOE at that time and new finance (business manager) Steve Sirico put the Schools on a pay as you go basis. The result was cleaner more easilly understood budget that permitted year over year performance. Yes, there have been surpluses but those often are the result of favorable bidding results on insurance, better than expected weather conditions, or simply good negotiation and spending management. Universally that is considered a good thing. Remember, when the BOE does not spend money, it goes into the Town Bank account. We earn interest on that money, a strong bank account means a favorable bond rating and lower borrowing costs and finally, should an emergency occur we have funds on hand to handle the situation. Every taxpayer benefits from the current system We should NOT go back to the old days Tom Tesoro
Tiredof October 14, 2011 at 07:10 PM
Actually JG is 100% true
Thomas Tesoro October 14, 2011 at 07:16 PM
That is false.
Trumbullparent October 14, 2011 at 07:17 PM
Cindy, I am fully aware that the FS technically has no say on how the dollars are allocated to the schools. However, when the BOE hands Tim a list that specifies what programs and staff will be cut if Tim proposes x amount tax increase, then Tim does bear some responsibility on what is cut. He tried to call their bluff and stuck with his number. The BOE then cut freshman sports and TAG just as they said they would. Tim got called out, parents got angry, and lo and behold, a supplemental appropriation is given to the BOE to cover sports and TAG. Tim creates another funding cliff for next year. All of it was completely unnecessary and Tim should not have commanded his boards to stick to his number without compromise. So when you say, "The FS has no say what so ever on how those dollars are spent," that's not entirely accurate. He has plenty of say. I'm curious how you felt last year when the BOE did use the surplus money to prebuy textbooks and Tim called the BOE "dangerous and irresponsible." Did you agree the BOE did the right thing? Or did you agree with Tim?
Thomas Tesoro October 14, 2011 at 07:25 PM
Actually, Trumbull is getting older for a variety of reasons none of which is noted by Tiredof. Seniors actually like to live in Trumbull. Housing is less costly than some of the Towns like Westport and unlike the Republican Paradise of Shelton, we have parks, good services and things that seniors like to do. I am a good example, my children are out of the school system, Ican live just about anywhere and, my Company has offered to relocate me closer to my job. I like Trumbull and want to stay. Now, by contrast, many singles like the action and opportunites in NYC they go there if they can. Young families look for the kinds of things Trumbull offers, beginning with good schools. On my street we have three new families (total kids 7). America is aging and taxes have nothing to do with it. The five positions eliminated have had a negative effect on the system. That is a fact, fewer course offering at the High School and study hall instead of class. Not the right direction.
Tiredof October 14, 2011 at 07:25 PM
Just out of curiosity Tom am i correct when i say based on current projects the district is getting smaller? And did an administrator get a 22% raise?
Tiredof October 14, 2011 at 07:35 PM
Well trumbilite I find your analogy intresting because if you did find away to only spend $280 that is great, and in your capacity as a mother you determined that you need to purchase another item that was vital to the family your husband would understand....but to further the dialogue lets say you returned home and said here is $20 to be returned and then stated the family needed a vital item for survival and it cost $20. Your husband would say why didn't you buy it? and then next week you ask your husband for $330 and come home and return $30...it makes no sense.
Thomas Tesoro October 14, 2011 at 07:39 PM
Hi Tiredof, which administrator are you referring to. If you mean the person at Town Hall that Tim gave the 11% to I think you may be wrong. As for projections of enrollment, yes, projections are down but of course, projections are guesses with a fancy name. Each year there are projections and very few are spot on. If you want to have an intelligent conversation on this and I hope you do, the percentage of a raise is very misleading and has little value in understanding the situation. The questions are as follows with respect to any form of hiring: If this is a new hire, what does the market say the price for talent is? What is the Organization philosopy with respect to where in the range of potential hires (for example we want to be a top quartile payer and thereby attract the best talent). What will a new hire do to internal equity within the Organization? If the person is an internal candidate, are they replacing someone? What was the salary of the person they are replacing? Is this a lateral move or a promotion? What additional duties or responsibilities does the person have? What is the proposed salary against the market? Does the internal candidate have a particular expertise? What is the cost both in terms of dollars and time to go outside for a replacement? I think you see my point. whether it is 11% that Tim gave or any other increase to anyone, without the details, it is impossible to undertstand compensation decisions.
Patty Sheehan October 14, 2011 at 07:57 PM
Nice response, Mr.Tesoro, to what seems to be an attempt to create yet another "sound bite", in my opinion.
Jonny Trumbull October 14, 2011 at 08:04 PM
Republican BOE candidate Penkoff: "I think I've decided I'm not a fan of PTA moms. It's like a gang or something and they travel in packs." See http://twitter.com/#!/girlfriendgener I'm sure Ms. Penkoff means well, but it's hard to understand how Trumbull Republicans nominate a BOE candidate who never went past high school, is antagonistic toward "PTA moms," and has a questionable grasp of budgeting fundamentals. Unless the chief criterion for nomination is loyalty to an administration that has alienated so many former supporters. But as Ms. Penkoff points out, this story was about the First Selectman's "October Surprise" senior tax relief proposal. I've observed that it looks like blatant pandering. It's worse if it's not legally permissible, but either way, it's still pandering. (Perhaps Mr. Leo could help us all out on that by making some calls to independent legal experts who could say one way or the other.) Even seniors who would benefit from it ought to wonder about an administration that would indulge in such transparent gamesmanship.
jg October 14, 2011 at 08:08 PM
Tiredof, Please provide names of the parties involved and tell us where you got your information. There have already been inquiries about this issue and your assertion is false. It will be interesting to know who is still spreading false and misleading information.
Tiredof October 14, 2011 at 09:05 PM
Sound bite?....so Mr. T am i correct and factual when i say that one of your current BOE canidates negotiated a 22% raise for an Educational administrator...that same canidate negotiated a 10k retirment bonus for herself too? correct? no need for double talk about % and value...yes or no will do? and curiously if you don't like % why not tell the public the amount of the raise and for what position....i will be happy to here the details of the 22% raise...and as far as Tim he may have given a raise to someone but Town halls budget has remained flat....so what ever he is doing i want him to keep doing.
Cindy Katske October 14, 2011 at 09:08 PM
Back to the topic. The minutes of the 9/26/11 TC Finance Committee provide some interesting details, particularly when juxtaposed with Mr. Herbst's campaign ad in the 10/13/11 Trumbull Times. In the Times ad, Mr. Herbst proclaims that he "proposed and submitted legislation to Town Council to expand senior tax relief to include an exemption on car taxes." However, the minutes state that the resolution presented merely directed the TC Finance Committee to "research and make a recommendation to the Trumbull Town Council in regards to a personal property tax abatement for senior residents." That's clearly neither a proposal nor legislation, so Mr. Herbst's ad is not truthful. The minutes then state, "After Mr. Nelson's review of the state statutes it is not clear whether there is enabling legislation for the Town to pursue personal property abatement. The Town Tax Assessor had advised Mr. Nelson that there may not be a statute and had suggested that the Town attorney look into whether this would be possible." This tells us that Mr. Herbst had to know that there was no statutory authority for his proposal! The minutes go on, "Mr. Nelson suggested that this resolution be held in committee pending review by the Town attorneys." This tells us that Mr. Herbst KNEW that this proposal could go nowhere until further legal review was done. Yet it was still brought to committee before the election. This, to me, proves without doubt that this was a purely political ploy.
Thomas Tesoro October 14, 2011 at 09:14 PM
Tiredof, I guess I was wrong about you wanting a substantive conversation. You just want to pump for your candidate. OK, that's fine. Now we have two Board of Education candidates, one Ms. Seaman and the other Mr. Ward. Both highly respected citizens of our Community. So, unless I am missing someone, you are mistaken. Neither Ms. Seaman nor Mr. Ward has the power to grant a 22% increase for anyone. Mr. Ward as a member of the BOE may vote on such an increase but that would have to be ratified by a majority of the BOE which, as you know, is Republican controlled. Ms. Seaman was a Principal and as such had no control over increases in pay. If you are referring to increases negotiated by a Union, the, neither Mr. Ward or Ms. Seaman could give anyone a 22% increase since, as you know, Collective bargaining agreements are negotiated by many and ratified by the Town Council. However, feel free to vote for Mr. Herbst. I know he appeciates the support but, sadly, once again the attempted soundbite falls flat. :(
Momof3 October 14, 2011 at 09:57 PM
Ms. Penkoff is consistently antagonistic in her posts whether it's regarding PTA Moms or anyone else that doesn't support her viewpoint. After witnessing the muddy mess, the extremely intense emotions and the lack of our FS's support for education this year, she is the last person we should be considering to add to the BofEducation. We deserve a Board of Ed that is looking out for the best interests of our children as well as all of our tax payers. She clearly does not have a balanced perspective on both. As far as the topic is concerned- I'm completely not surprised-" All day kindergarten"," No more portables" and WOW "No car taxes for our seniors"!!!- who wouldn't want to live in Trumbull?!?!?!??! oh wait............. PTA moms are still waiting for that all day kindergarten and no more portables.....................
CTPati October 14, 2011 at 10:49 PM
You bitter DEMS love to divert any discussion to 1) rehashing your sour grapes over not getting as much of an INCREASE to the school budget as requested, and 2) bashing Herbst and any Republican candidate at every turn! So much for any hopes Patch may have to get additional readers. :-( Although--maybe that's a good thing, since it is partly owned by Huffpo, and seemingly is in bed with DEMS like Obama.
Kathleen McGannon October 14, 2011 at 11:05 PM
" I have attended nearly every BOF, BOE and TC meeting for 3 years. I have gone through the entire budget process for 2 years and was a part of this years budget process as a member of the BOF.And when you have monies left over, like the year they gave back over a million dollars, replacing computers and books should have been at the top of the list." Cindy Penkoff As someone who has been attending the same meetings for more than 18 years, I can assure you that things have changed for the better. The BOE USED to exactly what you are suggesting--spending every dime they were given and returning nothing to the town. People became very mistrusting of their spending habits. So, at the suggestion of the BOF and the TC, the BOE began returning money that they did not need, based on what they told us the budget would be. Honesty in budgeting. Say what you need, and spend what you say you will spend. Return any surplus. Now, that you have been involved for a few (3) of the 18 years that I have been involved, you want to go BACK to the murky spending pattern that caused some of the distrust of the BOE. We have come a long way since those days, and frankly I do not want to return to them. I am happy to see the BOE account for every penny and NOT spend excess funds without openness and transparency. But this a thread about Tim trying to fool seniors into thinking he cares about them. I guess he hoped to get away with it until after November.
J Strouse October 16, 2011 at 02:36 AM
MBT - Is it illegal or not? You first say that it may be illegal...but at the end of the article you suggest that it is illegal (when you say that they should have put forth a plan that is not illegal...thereby making the conclusion that it is in fact illegal.) Now...either that was intentional or an oversight. If either case, that is as irresponsible as you claim the Republicans to be in this regard. In the middle of the article, between the two different conclusions, you note that nothing permits what's being proposed. But does anything prohibit it? Is there any reason to think the state wouldn't approve it? Instead of pointing out why it may not work (and instead of falsely concluding that it's definitely illegal), let's work together to figure out how to make it work... so that we can give a little help to our seniors. Remember, words are powerful. Be careful how you use them.
TrumbullProgressive October 19, 2011 at 03:51 AM
Does this administration actually think they can buy our senior's vote for $125. Actually it is less than $125 because our property is taxed at 70% of the assessed value, so the tax relief would actually be more like $87.50/year. Twenty-four cents a day. Thanks for the relief Mr. Herbst. Don't let the door hit you in the back on the way out!

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