WESTBROOK, Conn. – Should the town forgive back taxes to an owner promising to remediate a piece of contaminated property?
The issue is being reviewed by the town’s Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance.
First Selectman Noah Bishop is requesting Attorney David Bohonnon, who represents Paul Cusson, owner of 88 Pond Meadow Road, to attend the next scheduled Board of Selectmen meeting on Thursday, Aug. 2 at 5 p.m. in the North Conference Room of the Mulvey Municipal Center.
Bishop plans to have Town Attorney Michael Wells at the meeting to discuss the matter with the Board and Bohonnon.
Wells is an attorney from the firm Gould, Larson, Bennet, Wells, and McDonnell, P.C., whom Bishop recently appointed as the town’s attorney.
88 Pond Meadow Road is a 5.40-acre parcel, the former home of Turnpike Auto Wreckers, which closed its operations in 1993.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection has designated the site a “brown field” because of severe levels of contamination originating from the storage of tires, oil, and automobile parts on the site.
Cusson acquired the property in 2005 and has entered into a voluntary remediation program with Triton Environmental, Inc., an environmental consultant in Guilford, and the DEP.
In exchange for cleaning up the property, Bohonnon approached the Board of Selectmen in May to ask for a forgiveness of approximately $100,000 in back taxes owed on the property.
Selectman Bob Mulvihill indicated at that time that he would like more information from the DEP regarding Phase II and Phase III remediation reports and said there were still many unanswered questions regarding the remediation process.
Mulvihill and Selectman Tony Palermo voted to table the issue to a future meeting.
In a letter Wells wrote to Bishop, he wrote that abatement of taxes refers to forgiving taxes in the future, such as during an ongoing remediation program, and has a maximum period of seven years.
Forgiveness of taxes, on the other hand, refers to removing the debt of taxes, interests, and penalties past due.
“The statue is written so that the town cannot do both; it can do one or the other,” Wells wrote, referring to Connecticut State Statue Section 12-81r.
Wells stated that while Cusson is requesting the town to forgive all interest and penalties of $100,000, Cusson has indicated he would pay the principal amount of back taxes due which is about $79,000.
Going forward, Cusson indicated he is willing to pay all current and future taxes on the property, according to Wells.
Current owners can, under state statue, request an abatement of taxes, but forgiveness of taxes is limited to a “prospective purchaser,” Wells wrote.
“From a practical standpoint the current owner could contract to sell this to another LLC controlled by the same person(s), who could then apply as such ‘perspective’ purchaser in order to meet the statutory requirement,” Wells wrote.
Wells has suggested that the issue be discussed by the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance to see whether the two boards would grant the forgiveness and then suggests the boards determine what conditions they would like to impose.
At that point, Wells said he wants to know how Attorney Bohonnon will proceed with the “prospective purchaser requirement”.
Forgiveness of taxes requires approval of the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance which can impose conditions, Wells wrote, but does not require a town meeting.