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Norwalk roundup: Collecting fees and fines along with taxes

Jacquen Jordon-Byron, left, and former Common Council member Sharon Stewart chat Tuesday during a break in the Common Council meeting in City Hall. Jordon-Byron is interested in the District B Council seat, should Council member Faye Bowman leave Norwalk.

NORWALK, Conn. – Here’s a roundup of Norwalk items of interest:

  • Collecting blight fees through tax sale
  • Another candidate for District B’s Council seat
  • Voting against consent
  • Suspense tax list

 

A first: using the tax sale to collect blight fines

The notices are almost ready to be filed on the biennial tax sale, Tax Collector Lisa Biagiarelli told the Common Council Finance Committee last week.
That’s 90 properties for sale, with 81 accounts paid in full to avoid being listed, with $2.6 million collected as of Thursday, she said.

“Corporation Counsel wanted to add properties that owe significant blight fees and Zoning fees,” she said. “Believe it or not, it’s $650,000 worth of fees that we are trying to collect on behalf of these other departments through the sale.”

Eight Zoning liens, 12 blight liens and one Health Department relocation lien were added to the sale, she said, explaining that the latter is “when they have to evict somebody and move them somewhere else.”

Norwalk Fair Housing Officer Margaret Suib said recently that, “If the city orders tenants out of an apartment (because it is illegal, or let’s say because it is not up to code/unsafe), then state law typically requires the city to relocate the people who are displaced. The City can then lien the property to recoup those costs.”

The Council in 2013 passed a residential blight ordinance that allowed the city to levy fines at $100 a day for violations and put liens on properties to collect the fines. This was expanded to include commercial properties in 2015.

There was a blight lien in the sale once before as in 2016 there was a property already in the sale that had a blight lien on it, Biagiarelli said.

Council member Doug Hempstead (R-District D) asked if she has the authority to sell the properties to collect the liens.

“That’s what they said. We’ll find out,” Biagiarelli said, explaining that it’s not all the properties that have liens on them, just certain accounts provided by the legal department and that the procedures, which include hearings, have been followed.

She provided examples:

  • $11,000 in blight fines
  • $20,000 in blight fines
  • $3,200 in Zoning fines
  • $14,000 in Zoning fines
  • $6,200 in Zoning fines
  • $25,000 in Zoning fines
  • $27,000 for the Health Department relocation

 

Some property owners are in the sale for owing taxes and also owe blight fees; there are two that don’t owe taxes but owe nearly $50,000 in Zoning fees, Biagiarelli said.

Grasso is not on the list, with nothing under Crystal LLC, the owner of the property at 314 Wilson Avenue used by Grasso, Biagiarelli said in response to questions from the Council members.

“The collectible on this sale because of this addition is now in excess of $5 million,” she said. “So we are now halfway there, because we are at 2.6. That’s good, we haven’t even filed the notices and we are halfway there. So people are paying to get out of the sale, which is really what we want. If we couldn’t sell anything we’d be happy, we just want them to pay.”

 

 

Three seek Bowman’s Council seat

Jacquen Jordon-Byron has stepped forward for consideration should a replacement be needed for Council member Faye Bowman (D-District B).

Bowman has said she is moving out of Norwalk because she wants to buy a home and prices are too high here, but has not turned in a letter of resignation yet. Some suspect she won’t go through with it.

Jordon-Byron announced her desires at last week’s District B Democrats meeting, she said. Also seeking Bowman’s seat is South Norwalk activist Ernie Dumas and District B treasurer Manny Langella, who has run for the Council twice and recently won election go the Democratic Town Committee.

Jordon-Byron said she’s lived in Norwalk since 2000 and works in the Merritt 7 complex, for Charter Brokerage. She’s from Brooklyn.

“The same thing that is happening to South Norwalk has happened in Brooklyn, where I used to live in Clinton Hill. A lot of changes, a lot of redevelopment, a lot of new buildings going up, people being forced out,” she said, Tuesday, explaining that she understands the changes and, “I want to become more involved with the community and I want to be part of it, possibly learn how to direct individuals into a positive force, also educate myself and others about how to mobilize. And of course, be part of the process because progress is good.”

District B Democrats are set to make a recommendation for the expected vacancy but the 15 Democratic Town Committee members from District B will make the decision.

 

 

Simms votes no on unanimous ‘consent’

Speaking of District B, the vote on the “consent calendar” at last week’s Council meeting was not unanimous.

NancyOnNorwalk has never seen that one before. The “consent calendar” is a list of items that Council members have agreed to consent to. This time, Council member Travis Simms (D-District B) voted no.

“Doesn’t that mean the whole consent calendar? Nothing is on consent?” Council member Tom Livingston (D-District E) asked.

“I am not taking anything off consent. I am just not voting (in favor of it),” Simms said.

It was quickly decided that the consent calendar passed by a majority vote.

The Connecticut General Assembly defines “consent calendar” as “A group of bills that all members of a committee or house agree to pass without debate with one roll call vote. A single member may have a bill removed from the consent calendar merely by asking.”

“Items on the consent calendar are generally non-controversial items that do not require much, if any, discussion. The consent calendar allows decision-makers to group such items together under one heading and decide them at one time,” the Institute for Local Government states

 

 

A list of uncollected taxes

In another oddity, Biagiarelli last week explained the suspense tax list to the Board of Estimate and Taxation.

“Because taxes are collectible in Connecticut for 15 years from the due date, we are obligated to still attempt to try to collect these debts, even though in some cases we really have no viable way of doing so,” she said. “So… the General Assembly has created method where (tax collectors) can transfer items to suspense with your approval.”

The principal being transferred to suspense was $532,426.94, of which $198,892.30 was in business-personal property taxes and $333,534.64 is in motor vehicle taxes, she wrote in a letter to the BET.

While the tax collector’s office hasn’t given up on collecting the money, “It wouldn’t be fair for us to leave them on the regular tax list because it looks like we have a better chance of collecting them and we don’t want the city to rely on the fact that we think we are going to collect them,” she said.

Last year’s transfer was $911,302.34, an unusually high amount due to The Original Grasso Construction Company’s  bankruptcy, affecting the 2007-2015 grand list bills, and some court stipulated settlements such as SoNo Wharf, she wrote, calling this an annual procedure.

The annual transfer to suspense has generally been decreasing since 2007, she wrote, offering this history:

  • 2017: $911,302.34
  • 2016: $412,287.77
  • 2015: $962,091.92
  • 2014: $306,641.30
  • 2013: $454,871.68
  • 2012: $359,896.94
  • 2011: $465,821.35
  • 2010: $496,680.34
  • 2009: $532,801.13
  • 2008: $620,125.81
  • 2007: $894,709.15
  • 2006: $685,136.72
  • 2005: $350,760
  • 2004: $823,145
  • 2003: no transfer made

 

The suspense list is “really not that much when you consider our levy is $320-330 million a year,” she said.

Some outstanding bills are in the hands of the state marshal and some have been turned over to a collection agency, which can trace people to another state, she said.

“We think we are doing a better job of tracking people down. We also think we are doing a better job of not letting things get to the point where we would be putting them on suspense.

“As of the end of March, 2018, nine months or three quarters into the current fiscal year, we collected nearly $307 million, or 98.52% of our $311+ million adjusted tax levy,” Biagiarelli wrote on April 20 to the BET. “In addition, as of the end of March, 2018, we collected in excess of $15 million of our sewer use levy, or 98.23%. We also collected 86.63% of the year’s IPP (Industrial Pretreatment Program) fee on behalf of the Water Pollution Control Authority. Compared with the prior fiscal year, we are slightly ahead with regard to current taxes (.23%) and very slightly behind with regard to current sewer use (-0.11) collections.”

The #StandingWomen Mother’s Day March for Peace on Sunday. “A soft rain accompanied our walk from the SoNo bridge to old city hall in Norwalk CT,” Diane Keefe wrote. “Members of Wilton Quaker Meeting were joined by founders of the Kemper Human Rights Foundation participating in a Standing Women’s peace action to honor the original purpose of Mother’s Day.”

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