“People’s Budget” Targets Empty Lots

Markeshia Ricks photoThomas Breen photoNobody likes vacant lots. But publish an online map identifying city-owned lots, and maybe more residents will come forward to buy, build, and return them to tax rolls.

That and other land management recommendations arose during a conversation with city staff about boosting revenue and cutting costs.

The conversation took place on Thursday night on the second floor of City Hall during the first meeting of the “People’s Budget Initiative,” a collaboration among the city’s community management teams and City Controller Daryl Jones, city Acting Budget Director Michael Gormany, and city Legislative Liaison Esther Armmand.

Thomas Breen photoRunning just under two hours long, the meeting brought together city financial officials and ten management team leaders from Newhallville, East Rock, East Shore, and beyond to discuss how best to craft a budget that will not unduly burden city taxpayers.

“This is the people’s budget,” Jones said. “We’re just stewards of it.”

Per city law, the mayor must present a first full draft of the budget to the Board of Alders by March 1.

While Thursday’s conversation bounced around between such topics as the state’s underfunding of the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program, the city’s efforts to “bend” ever-rising health care costs, and the promise of new technology to streamline city permitting services, the residents in the room often returned to property-based ideas for avoiding a rerun of last budget’s 11 percent tax increase.

“How do we have more dollars coming into the city,” Newhallville Community Management Team Chair Kim Harris said, “so we can stop the bleeding?”

One idea, proposed by Newhallville management team member Nina Fawcett, is that the city publish an online map of vacant lots, and single out those that are owned by the city and that are for sale. That way residents have a clearer understanding of which empty parcels of land in their neighborhood are publicly owned and available for purchase from the city’s anti-blight Livable City Initiative (LCI).

With a map of such properties accessible via the city website, Fawcett said, “people can start eyeballing properties. They can start connecting vacant lots and make them viable.” Thereby replacing vacant parcels that often accumulate trash and debris and depress neighboring property values and turning them into new tax-contributing residences.

Jones said he would be happy to make such a map available on the city website. In fact, he said, vacant city-owned land is one of the data points that the city’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analyst has already plotted. All he has to do is push that map, currently reserved for city official view only, to a public-facing section of the site.

After a lengthy discussion about how roughly 55 percent of the city’s properties are not on the city’s tax rolls, thanks in large part to the high concentration of tax-exempt nonprofits like Yale University and Yale-New Haven Hospital, Harris asked, “What about capping the number of nonprofits that come into New Haven?

“That’s hard,” Jones said. How could one legally exclude certain nonprofits from setting up in town?

Kevin McCarthy, the vice-chair of the East Rock Community Management Team and a former legislative staffer in Hartford, tweaked Harris’s question a bit. “We can determine,” he said, “who we sell city property to.”

He suggested that the city review its holdings of vacant lots, and also its policies around whom it sells to. Perhaps the city should hold off on selling publicly-owned properties at below-market prices to even worthwhile nonprofits, he said, since, after the sale and subsequent development, the property will still be tax exempt.

Jones agreed again. He said the city has already been reviewing just such a policy.

Which led McCarthy to yet another land-based revenue initiative, one that he recognized would likely not be the most popular in certain neighborhoods of the city.

“Everyone hates the reval,” McCarthy said, referring to the twice-a-decade citywide reassessment of property values. “Especially those of us who live in East Rock.”

But, he said, recent articles in the Independent have shown that some multifamily properties in the city have been selling for more than their city-appraised values. That could mean, he said, that many residential properties in the city are in fact more valuable than what the city thinks, and is taxing them at.

“It may be worth doing a property revaluation early,” McCarthy said.

Jones wrote down the idea, noting that, indeed, the city does not legally have to wait five years to do a property reval. It could do one every year, if it chose to.

At the end of the two-hour session, the management team chairs applauded Jones, Gormany, and Armmand for taking the time to listen to their ideas.

Looking out at the dozen people sitting around the table and the empty meeting room space behind them, Jones asked the group to reach out to neighbors and bring them to City Hall for the next “People’s Budget Initiative” meeting, which he said will take place sometime before March 1.

“I want this room to be full,” he said.

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posted by: Noteworthy on February 4, 2019  2:15pm

If you suppress the meetings or announce them at the last minute - people cannot come. I heard about the morning of the meeting. What good is that?

posted by: Patricia Kane on February 4, 2019  2:19pm

How many staffers, including the Mayor and the Board of Alders, are responsible for the City’s finances?
  So why are the Management Teams critical to solving the problems? What special expertise do area residents bring to the table that are not already available to our paid and volunteer officials? Kevin McCarthy is exceptional.
  This smacks of public relations, pure and simple. It looks like an attempt to persuade people who have no special expertise in reading the massive budget or have no background in finance to accept the City’s version of reality. This is especially important in an election year.
  My Co-chairs didn’t go to this meeting and I won’t even ask why.
  The Mayor ignored opposition to the bonus and second job for Jason Bartlett. I’m still wondering what his qualifications for working with children are.
  She has generated at least 6 litigation matters that I know of and the bill hasn’t become due yet, although the outcome with Nichole Jefferson and Sally Brown are likely previews of coming attractions.
    She sought and obtained an immediate $10,000 raise when she found out Joe Ganim made more money than she did.
    She continues to have round the clock security at the taxpayer’s expense, a trip for her and an entourage to China, use of a credit card and who knows what else.
    She repeatedly returns to push for bigger planes at Tweed, although has yet to produce any of the neighborhood requests for a public health study or other remediation items.
    She put herself on the Board of Education, installed a “sister” with a questionable record of achievement as Superintendent and has presided over a car wreck of a Board, one that routinely violates the FOIA. Why?
    But we are to believe that the Chairs of the Management Teams should bring in more people and subject them to a one-sided presentation?
    I cheered when the Mayor pushed for Yale’s exemption to end, but apparently trying once is sufficient. No.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on February 4, 2019  3:02pm

I want to thank Daryl Jones and Michael Gormany for their presentation, and Esther Armmand for arranging the meeting. They were professional and patient.

The Affordable Housing Task Force has a number of specific recommendations to facilitate the development of vacant lots. In addition to its direct effect, I suspect such development would increase the value of nearby properties.

We are planning to meet again in the near future. I would appreciate ideas for other issues we can explore (n.b., we spent a large part of the meeting discussing why the city, on its own initiative, cannot tax Yale’s non-commercial properties).

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on February 4, 2019  3:43pm

Patricia, thanks. The meeting was primarily about revenues rather than expenditures. I claim absolutely no expertise about the latter (and not all that much about the former). But I do think non-experts can come up with useful ideas. Finally, the meeting was held at the request of the management team leaders, not City Hall.

posted by: robn on February 4, 2019  4:29pm

Many thanks to Kevin McCarthy for his volunteerism. However, the best pile of proposals we can come up with are doomed to fail with half of our property untaxable. We will never, ever, solve our problem until we get full reimbursement for non-taxable properties. I’m convinced the only way to get that reimbursement is to sue the state legislature for its own violation of the equal protection clause. The non taxability of non profits is the state’s own creature and this anachronistic rule unequally applied.

posted by: Seth Poole on February 4, 2019  5:09pm

Thank you all for starting the conversation about land redistribution.  We also need to clamp down on absentee landlords/land-bankers and reclaim possession of lands with structures on them as well.  People who live in New Haven can, and will purchase properties.  If they only knew they were available for purchase without big-money out-of-towners swooping in with excess cash.

posted by: wendy1 on February 5, 2019  2:23am

With the election coming up this fall, Toni and the Harpettes are scurrying around trying to look busy.  Too little, too late and I hear she will raise taxes again.  More people should attend these meetings and gripe.  I’m going to one tonight at Betsy Ross school.

posted by: 1644 on February 5, 2019  7:33am

Seth:  Treating residents differently from non-residents would require a repeal of the 14th amendment to the US Constitution, which requires states ( and the city is legally considered an agent an creature of the state, even though it’s not) to treat people equally, as well as sections 1 & 20 of article one of the state constitution.
Seizing property without compensation, would also violate various provisions of the US and CT constitutions.

On a practical basis,  removing he demand of non-residents would decrease demand, and therefore value, and therefore lessen the Grand List and necessitate an increase in the mill rate.

posted by: FacChec on February 5, 2019  11:27am

If this meeting was supposed to be a BUDGET meeting, the subjects discussed here miss the mark by $8.2M, which was the amount of tax increase this budget year. The discussion also failed to mention the current city debt of $8.9M. The city continues to preach the lie about being underfunded by the state of CT. while at the same time under reporting to the BOA and the public the full and actual funds the city does receive from the State; of which the city does NOT show in the general fund budget. Here the city is content allowing the management teams, who are basically social workers and NOT financial analysts, to speak on laboriously, about vacant lots whose value would not amount to the paper Jones is scribbling on, in the photo. The city does not share the cost to tax payers in tax abatement they are giving away to developers for properties which are NOT affordable, while at the same time, creating vacancies in EAST-Rock and across the city as a result of city renters leaving the old apts for a new more expensive one. If the subject here is a five year budget plan, it’s off to a left- footed start; since Jones never starts this conversation with the fact the city has a current $8.9M deficit, all attributable to the BOE.

The idea of a yearly property assessment has no benefit attached for tax payers.
The assessor and his contractor, Visions government solutions, only look at sales in the previous 6-12 months to make similar sales comparison, at this rate assessment would increase five times faster, a windfall to Jones. ““Everyone hates the reval,” McCarthy said, Right especially annually.

Finally, a summary of the meeting suggest a meeting about budget plans which focused upon vacant properties owned by the city which even after repaired and sold, will have no impact on the grand list.

The Mayors state of the city does not mention taxes, property assessments, state pilot payments or overtime reductions.

posted by: Bill Saunders on February 5, 2019  1:17pm

So, how many of these lots have been sold in the last 11 years….?

https://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/sliver_lots_up_for_grabs/

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on February 5, 2019  3:38pm

1644, I’m not a lawyer. But I thought Equal Protection claims, which would likely be raised if the city discriminated against absentee landlords, are generally subject to rational basis scrutiny. I don’t know that such discrimination would survive this scrutiny. But governments make distinctions all the time. For example, the city’s apartment licensing requirements do not apply to small buildings.

FacChec, I’m not arguing for annual revaluations. That probably would not make economic sense for the reason you cited. It definitely would not make sense politically. But many recent sales of large apartment buildings that Tom has identified have had prices well above their appraised values. I think it is worthwhile for the city to determine whether this is true generally. If it is, the city could determine whether it is worthwhile, economically and politically, to do an early revaluation.