At Tuesday night’s Town Council meeting, West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor read proclamations establishing committees for two upcoming projects, and approved a tax deferment measure in line with bipartisan legislation signed by Gov. Ned Lamont earlier in the day.
By Ronni Newton
The Town Council will be establishing committees to manage two upcoming initiatives – ensuring a complete an accurate count for the 2020 census, and forming a relationship with a sister city.
The committees are essentially task forces that will be disbanded when their set missions are complete.
Establishment of a Complete Count Committee is an action recommended by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the International City/County Management Association “in order to increase awareness and motivate residents to respond to the 2020 Census
questionnaire (notwithstanding the fact that there may be suspicion or fear of such federal documents by some residents),” the resolution establishing the committee states.
“This is something that we did in 2009, and we will be doing it again,” Cantor said.
Complete Count Committee members will include a broad cross section of members from throughout the local community – social service organizations, faith- and community-based organizations, education, and government – in order to ensure that the importance of participating in the 2020 Census can be effectively communicated to as many people as possible.
Much of the rollout will take place in the West Hartford Libraries, Cantor said.
Cantor and Town Manager Matt Hart will co-chair the Complete Count Committee.
The Sister City Task Force is being established in order “research establishing a sister city relationship for the primary benefit of sharing sustainable practices in addition to cultural, social, and economic connections.”
The Sister City Task Force will have between five and seven members appointed by Cantor, and will be expected to report back to the Town Council on its findings by June 30, 2019.
Resident Bernard Pelletier of the Clean Energy Task Force, who brought forward the idea of West Hartford forming a relationship with a sister city, accepted the proclamation from Cantor. He said that he hopes to find a town – likely in Europe – that “through a prism of difference” has some better ideas about things that we are doing now.
“We will look inside and discover or rediscover things about ourself,” Pelletier said.
Also on Tuesday night, the Town Council approved a resolution under suspense that will “establish a deferment program to defer the due date of taxes on real property, personal property or motor vehicles, or water or sewer rates, charges or assessments, owed by affected employees.”
Earlier in the day, Gov. Ned Lamont signed into law his first bill, a bipartisan measure passed by the legislature that approves interest-free loans for federal workers impacted by the government shutdown.
The bill also authorizes municipalities to establish a tax-deferment program for affected federal employees – permitting property taxes due on land, buildings, and motor vehicles, as well as water and sewage treatment service assessments, to be paid late without the state-mandated 18 percent penalty rate on overdue property taxes.
“Many of these federal workers are expected to go to work and don’t have the opportunity to look for other work,” Cantor said. Because tax bills are due on Jan. 31, and the Town Council won’t meet again until after that date, Cantor said she believes it’s important to act quickly.
Impacted employees will be permitted to defer payment without interest or penalty “until sixty (60) days after they cease to be affected by the shutdown.”
Minority Leader Chris Barnes said he did not sign his name to the resolution.
Barnes said he wonders about “other folks who are laid off and out of work and not receiving the same amount of attention.” He also wondered whether or not it was necessary since the town already has hardship opportunities available in the tax office.
Deputy Mayor Beth Kerrigan said that these people are serving our country and our government. Cantor added that many are going to work and can’t look for another job.
Democratic Council member Dallas Dodge noted that the workers would likely be paid at some point, but what is being done – requiring employees to work without pay – can only be done by the federal government.
“I was very pleased that our legislature and our governor were able to work together today … to find a small measure of relief for these workers,” Dodge said of the bill that was signed into law.
Councilor Liam Sweeney, also a Democrat, said that while there could be programs in place as Barnes noted, “We’re taking the ‘could’ out of it.” He said he applauded Cantor’s efforts in doing this, and West Hartford may be the first municipality in the state to act on it.
Democrat Leon Davidoff said that a key distinction is that the program offers a chance to defer payments without any penalties or interest being assessed. “This is a situation where the federal workers find themselves in a situation that is really a matter of where they are employed,” not that they don’t want to pay.
“It stresses to the rest of the state that West Hartford is a compassionate place to live,” said Davidoff.
Republican Council member Mary Fay said she did sign onto the agreement. She said it’s a temporary measure to respond to a cash-flow crunch.
Barnes said that while he appreciates all of the comments, he thinks that the town “is creating a precedent going forward. … The next time there are layoffs you may be called upon to act in the same way.”
“Once in a while we get to do something that is compassionate and fiscally prudent,” Democrat Ben Wenograd said. While he agreed that Barnes’ comment about precedent makes sense, what is being done now on a federal level “is disgraceful” and the employees don’t have any way to make up for their lost income.
“I’m proud to be able to say we can do our little bit,” said Wenograd.
Cantor also thanked local restaurants Cook and The Bear, Luna Pizza, Harry’s, and World of Beer for considerations that they are making for impacted employees, including creating “house accounts” and discounting meals.
With a vote of 8-1, the Town Council approved the tax-deferment program Tuesday night.
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