Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Council adopts tax break for hybrid cars; hires new Town Planner

By Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
September 19, 2007

VERNON - Town Council members adopted a tax break for owners of hybrid and other fuel-efficient vehicles Tuesday in a party line vote that saw Republicans in favor and Democrats against the measure.

The ordinance exempts $1,000 in a vehicle's value from property tax to owners of hybrid and other cars that get at least 40 miles per gallon. Under the current tax rate, the benefit would be $32.91 for each owner of an eligible car.

Town officials say there are 371 vehicles in Vernon that qualify for the tax break, and if each applied, town tax revenues would be cut by $11,300.

Six of the seven Republican council members voted for passage while the five Democrats voted against it. Republican George F. Apel abstained because he owns a hybrid vehicle.

Council Democrats say they are against the ordinance because hybrid-vehicle owners now get a state sales tax break and a federal tax credit. Only higher-income residents can afford these vehicles, and as a result, the exemption shifts the tax burden to people who can least afford it, Democrats say.

Deputy Mayor Jason McCoy, the Republican candidate for mayor, said today that the vote was politically motivated, however.

"It doesn't make any sense why they would do that - we're not talking about a giveaway here," McCoy said.

Democrats representing Vernon in the state senate and legislature voted to pass the state tax credit in the General Assembly, McCoy said, adding, "Why would those people pass it if they didn't expect us to do the same thing at the town level?

"They're upset because I proposed it and they're going to make an issue out of it," he added.

McCoy said he proposed the tax break primarily to spark at the local level a reduction of dependence on foreign oil.

Mayor Ellen Marmer, a democrat running for re-election to her third term, says the vote had nothing to do with politics and questions McCoy's motives as he drives a "gas-guzzling SUV."

"Anytime a democrat had anything to say last night it was political," Marmer said of the two-hour discussion. "There's a dual standard I'm not understanding here."

Marmer said that during the public hearing portion of the meeting, several residents spoke out against the proposal and objected to a McCoy campaign flyer distributed in recent weeks citing passage of the ordinance.

"That is just unmitigated gall to publish that when it hadn't even been addressed in a public hearing," Marmer said. "It has nothing to do with politics - it's ethics. It's what's right and wrong. It subverts the democratic process."

Also Tuesday the town council unanimously voted to hire a new Town Planner, Leonard K. Tundermann, who has worked in the Plainfield town planner's office for more than 20 years, officials said.

His first day of work in Vernon is scheduled for Oct. 10.

Tundermann replaces former Town Planner Neil Pade, who resigned earlier this year to take a similar job in Canton.

©Journal Inquirer 2007