Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Vernon wants taxes before it issues permits

By Max Bakke
Journal Inquirer
Published: Thursday, March 5, 2009 12:45 PM EST

VERNON — A proposed ordinance that would require residents to pay back property taxes before obtaining building permits sparked debate among Town Council members who want to curtail the authority the ordinance grants to the mayor.

The proposed ordinance, which goes before residents at a public hearing March 17, permits the mayor to waive the requirement to pay back taxes to an individual who can demonstrate a financial hardship or extraordinary circumstance.

Town Attorney Hal Cummings and Building Official Pete Hobbs said the provision is included in the event of an emergency. For example, Hobbs said, if an elderly person on a fixed income had a fire in his or her home and required emergency work to avoid losing the house, the mayor could waive the fee.

Several council Democrats and Republicans protested the provision, saying it granted the mayor too much authority, and suggested that a nonpartisan official — such as the town administrator or a new hearing officer — decide waivers.

“Sometimes when we make exceptions for the 75-year-old widow, it gets expanded to the 42-year-old, well-connected landowner,” Democratic Councilman Michael Winkler said. “If residents have the money to build something, then I see no problem with them paying their taxes first.”

Mayor Jason L. McCoy blocked attempts to amend the ordinance Tuesday, saying those attempts were out of order because they were not directed to debate about the public hearing, and affirmed his role as the town’s chief executive, saying the mayor should handle those duties.

Republican council member Nancy Herold said the power would be an unfair burden to the mayor’s position, and fellow Republican Dan Champagne recommended the town administrator handle any waivers.

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