RTM approves tax deferral program, sets budget vote date
Darien’s Representative Town Meeting approved a tax deferral program for commercial, non-profit and residential local tax payers on Monday night. Meeting virtually, the RTM was unanimous in its approval.
Though the meeting was held by registering with a webinar program, and not carried live on Darien TV 79, the audio was carried by the station’s Facebook page, and it is available on the station’s Vimeo channel. .
The plan was one of two options offered by the state for residents’ tax relief. The other option was to reduce the interest rate on late tax payment which would be available to all residents. However, in previous town board discussions, concerns were raised that he interest rate would be so low it would encourage too many residents to pay late — which could cause financial concerns for the town.
The plan was endorsed by the Board of Finance and the Board of Selectmen before heading to the RTM. It was recommended to the RTM by the Finance and Budget Committee and presented by that committee’s chairman, Jack Davis.
Originally, the town had a deadline of April 25 to choose a tax relief program. However Town Administrator Kate Buch and First Selectman Jayme Stevenson worked with the Office of Policy and Management to obtain the extra two days to allow the RTM to vote.
Under the tax deferral plan, those who meet the guidelines put forward by the Office of Policy and Management and can prove that they have been economically impacted by teh coronavirus pandemic are eligible. Landlords who apply for the deferral must also show they are providing rent relief for their tenants.
This deferral does not apply to those who pay real estate taxes via escrow account.
The deferral means that those who are eligible have until Oct. 1 to pay their local property taxes without incurring an interest penalty. For those who are not eligible for the deferral, taxes are due July 1 and are subject to interest penalties at a rate of 18% per year if not paid by Aug. 1.
The RTM set the date to vote on the town budget and set the mill rate of June 8.
Before the RTM’s agenda was made, there was discussion of an interpretation of guidance from the state as to whether changes to streamline the budget process applied to Darien’s RTM.
Lamont issued two orders regarding municipal budgets. One gave the towns an additional 30 days to the deadline for approval. He also waived a rule — to ease the burden of passing municipal budgets — eliminating a requirement that the public vote to approve the annual budget in the roughly two-thirds of municipalities that do so.
Darien is one of a few towns in Connecticut that has its budget approved by an RTM. Other towns in Connecticut have a public referendum. Westport, Groton, Fairfield and Greenwich are among other towns that have an RTM.
Town Counsel Wayne Fox originally interpreted that streamlined language to mean that the RTM would cede authority to the Board of Finance to have the final vote on the budget. The Board of Finance, on April 14, and the RTM Rules Committee, on April 13, both discussed how that would work.
Following the meeting of the Rules Committee, RTM District 2 Vice Chairman Stacey Tié emailed members of the RTM saying she had researched First Selectman Stevenson’s and Town Counsel Fox’s interpretation of the executive order, and cited her opposition.
Tié said she had researched the other towns in the state which have RTM’s and said only Darien had been asked to cede authority. Tié said she had reached out to the RTM moderators of Greenwich, Westport and Fairfield, which she said were continuing with the usual budget process. She also urged the RTM to vote against ceding authority, if the item remained on the agenda.
The Finance and Budget Committee voted unanimously against ceding authority, also citing the interpretation of the order
Further clarification of the excutive order was sought from the governor’s office.
A Frequently Asked Questions document issued as of Wednesday, April 22, at 8 p.m. specifically directs how order 7I affects towns with Representative Town Meetings and if they should meet and vote.
The document said: “Section 13 of EO 7I applies to the suspension of ‘in-person’ budget adoption requirements necessitating participation by members of the public, e.g. residents or property owners, in annual town meetings, referenda, special town meetings; and, thus, does not apply to a Representative Town Meeting (‘RTM’), which by statute is an entity defined separately from a town meeting. RTMs should continue to conduct meetings by ‘conference call, video-conference or other technology’ consistent with the requirements of Executive Order No. 7B.”
Due to the most recent clarification, Fox said last week while he felt the previous language in executive orders were unclear, the current guidelines are clear.
RTM Moderator Seth Morton told The Darien Times last week that, “Procedurally, the easiest way to deal with this is simply ask the RTM for Unanimous Consent not to act on the ITEM because the item is moot, based on the governor’s clarification of EO7I.”
Morton asked for that unanimous consent on Monday night in light of the governor’s clarification that the RTM take no action on the item. However, RTM member Jay Hardison opposed the unanimous consent and questioned why there was no discussion of the issue before that move could be made. He also said he thought the Finance & Budget Committee was going to talk about their vote.
When Morton told Hardison there was no discussion because the vote was now moot, Hardison said “we need to understand how this happened.”
Hadison added that the “Town Counsel did not represent our interest in this whole matter” and said at the “very least we need to discuss getting a separate counsel for the RTM.”
Morton pointed out that that discussion wasn’t on the agenda, and said a discussion about how it happened had to be taken to a different venue.
“I can’t speak for the governor and neither can anyone else here. We need to move forward, ourselves, in a normal matter and vote on the budget. There’s no real action to be taken,” Morton said.
In addition to some other business, the RTM also approved two gifts from the Darien Foundation. One, in the amount of $109,091 to the Darien Police Department, and one, in the amount of $50,768.