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Councilmen Express Concern On Departure Of Tax Recovery Firm



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Though no formal vote was taken at the February 7 meeting of the Legislative Council, the message was clear from most of the assembled Legislative Councilmen: First Selectman Jeff Capeci should seek to bring Capital Tax Recovery (CTR) back to the table to contract with Newtown.

Following a report from Capeci at the February 5 Board of Selectmen meeting that Capital Tax Recovery had backed out of working with the town, the council had removed a $100,000 appropriation for the collaboration from its agenda for its February 7 meeting, as it was no longer official business before the body. However, Councilman Chris Gardner asked early in the meeting if the issue could be added back to the agenda as a discussion item.

In a letter received from CTR representative Bryan Fischer, CTR’s stated reasons for ending its interest in working with the town were “Legislative Council’s concerns, the low population density, and my experience with similar towns.” While the letter does say Fischer is “open to re-evaluating” working with the town, Capeci said at the BOS meeting there is currently “no path” to bring the company onboard with the town.

CTR is a company that sends out private investigators with plate readers who check plates around town, on the roads, in driveways, and in parking lots, with a purpose of finding cars garaged in town that are registered out of state. In addition to catching cars registered out of state, they catch unregistered vehicles as well. Brookfield and Danbury currently contract with CTR for its services, and Newtown was attempting to “piggyback” onto Danbury’s contract, according to Finance Director Bob Tait.

The withdrawal of CTR drew criticism, including in The Newtown Bee’s Letter Hive, with letters in the February 9 issue from councilman Jennifer Nicoletti and former First Selectman Dan Rosenthal expressing dismay at the turn of events.

The issue was tabled by the Legislative Council on 10-2 votes at both its January 3 and January 17 meeting. A list of questions was compiled from various members following January 17, and the contents of those questions were an issue during discussions at the February 7 council meeting.

The issue could have possibly led to the resignation of Councilman Steve Hinden, who submitted a letter formally resigning on February 12. However, Hinden gave no reason for his resignation in the letter.

Some councilmen, such as Gardner and Ben Ruben, pointed toward a number of questions submitted by other councilmen, particularly those by Hinden.

The questions included asking why CTR is involved in contacting residents during the beginning portion of the process; why CTR is involved in assessing the validity of disputes; how well is CTR capitalized, including wanting to see a balance sheet; a request for details on background checks and what qualifications they have, and asking for names and titles, education and pay of all employees; and if employees would receive any incentives for finding improperly registered vehicles.

Gardner said he had “never seen a time when I was so disappointed over the actions of a board I’ve been on.” He said that a small amount of residents seeking to evade paying automobile taxes by registering their vehicles out of state was a “real problem in town” that had been “going on for years,” with hundreds of cars improperly registered.

“This was being done to raise some much-needed revenue for the community,” said Gardner. “I do not accept doing nothing. Everyone who pays their taxes on time unfairly takes on an extra burden.”

Gardner said he did “not buy into” the idea that CTR withdrew from Newtown because of demographics or the fact they might not make much money in Newtown. He mentioned emails that “were not sent to the whole council” led him to being “confident to say that there was an effort by some in this room to stop” CTR from coming to Newtown.

“This is not Washington, D.C., this is Newtown,” said Gardner. “We do not play politics like that. I do not like partisan politics. I was elected to represent Newtown voters.”

Gardner said that while he felt that councilmen were entitled to ask questions, and question asking was their job, that some questions asked were outside the purview of the council.

Council Chairman Keith Alexander said the issue had been dropped from the agenda because the appropriation was no longer valid and that he was told Town Assessor Kathy Brown and Tait were no longer pursuing a contract with CTR.

Alexander said the council was doing “what it was here for” in asking questions.

“I’m not sure if [CTR] backed out because they didn’t like the questions or thought we were annoying,” said Alexander.

Council Vice-Chair Jordana Bloom said her personal concern was about surveillance of Newtown residents and how a company would decide who was surveilled. She said that while she was absolutely for everyone paying their taxes, she wasn’t sure if hiring a company to surveil their vehicles was “the way.” That said, she wanted to hear further from CTR to clarify her concerns and did not necessarily oppose them.

Ruben said he 100 percent agreed questions needed to be asked, but some asked by Hinden were not the council’s purview, such as ones asking about background checks of CTR personnel, or asking for CTR’s financials.

“These questions make a company not want to do business with us,” said Ruben. “These are intimidating questions to a company.”

Councilman John Zachos said he thought asking questions he felt were inappropriate coming from the council was an attempt to “subvert the democratic process” by “chasing away a vendor without a vote.”

Councilman Derek Pisani said he was “very disappointed” CTR walked away when the council was going to be asking the taxpayer to “dig deeper and deeper” to cover a budget increase. He felt Hinden’s questions were “burdensome, malicious, and irrelevant.”

Hinden said his concerns about how the company was capitalized was a large concern for him because he feared a model that would incentivize CTR employees to find false hits and bring in additional revenue. He said that following the company’s links from Danbury led him to feel that the company would attempt to intimidate Newtown residents to not fight back against unfair assessments that their vehicle should be registered in town.

Hinden wrote in an email response to Rosenthal asking what due diligence had been applied to hiring the company and wondered if they were able to answer the questions he had that CTR would not. He said he is “not in favor of hiring a private investigator for 24/7 surveillance of our town, who can’t answer basic operational questions.”

“I am all for tax collection by all means appropriate, not all means possible,” said Hinden.

Nicoletti said the company had been vetted by not one but two administrations, and approved by the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Finance.

“We did our due diligence,” said Nicoletti. “The very simple job of the council is to pave the way for tax revenue, to ask if the program provides value to the town and does it benefit the vast majority of Newtown. I’d like to see it back on the table.”

Ruben answered criticisms of CTR’s site being “intimidating,” noting that the IRS is “way more intimidating.” He said that residents would have an opportunity to contest things with CTR and failing that, they would have another opportunity to contest things with the town, going to the Board of Assessment Appeals.

“The process is clear,” said Ruben. “We’re getting caught in the rhetoric.”

Alexander said the issue would be placed back on the agenda for the February 28 council meeting, when a vote could be taken.

In a brief interview with The Newtown Bee on February 14, Capeci said he reached out to Fischer to “reconsider Newtown” on February 12.

“We’ll see if he comes back,” said Capeci.

Capeci said that his take on the council’s position was that there was “bipartisan support” for bringing CTR to town and that “some people who were skeptical” were willing to be open-minded and could be turned around on the issue.


Editor Jim Taylor can be reached at jim@thebee.com.

Officials hope to bring Capital Tax Recovery, a business that locates local vehicles that are registered out of state, back to the negotiating table after the company stated it was no longer interested in working with Newtown.
Comments are open. Be civil.
  1. yhwy19 says:

    Steve, Stevie “the Hindenburg” Hindman crashed and burned quicker than I surmised. Unfortunately, some folks, are seeing exactly why some saw red flags on this individual prior to his announcement.
    The behavior at other town meetings should have given pause. Alas, this day won’t go down in infamy.

  2. voter says:

    I also ‘expressed concern’ when this particular individual announced they were running for LC. He demonstrated that he was unfit to serve Newtown when he displayed deranged behavior at the BOE meetings regarding library materials, and he wasted no time repeating the lesson once elected to the LC. While I’m relieved he’s resigned as a wrecking ball after only a few months tenure, it will be a shameful legacy if this vendor (and potentially others) consider Newtown a ‘bad fit’ for their services for the foreseeable future.

  3. qstorm says:

    Why can’t the assessor hire someone to do this? Look for people who paid property tax for their house but no car tax. Good place to start. Then look for Vermont tags in peoples driveways.

  4. ll says:

    …emails that “were not sent to the whole council”…

  5. tomj says:

    I am glad to hear this “police state” is going away. Just because you see out-of-state plates doesn’t mean the person isn’t paying their fair share. It would likely be a wash if the assessor’s office hired someone. Once you hire someone, pay their salary, benefits, health insurance, retirement, etc it wouldn’t recoup enough to justify the position. Even if you did it would create a circumstance where people would be spying on their neighbors.

    1. qstorm says:

      The town was willing to pay $100,000 for this effort – easily funds a temporary headcount. And how ‘neighborly’ is it to be a tax cheat?

      1. tomj says:

        Just because I have multiple cars registered in multiple states does not automatically mean I am a tax cheat. As for 100k being easy to hire someone, I would like you to think about the implications of hiring the wrong person. Giving someone “investigative” authority is a dangerous game. The individual would need to be highly vetted and would have to be given clear guidance on what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. Who gives this guidance? Are they allowed on private property if it is not posted? Are they allowed to look into the windows of a private garage? Are they allowed to stake out the schools? Are they allowed to follow people around town, while following someone are they allowed to exceed the speed limit? Are they allowed to record the faces of the people in the car? At what threshold is it considered a violation? There is a reason local police do not provide enforcement. Let’s start with the fact that it is not a primary stop. Second, let’s look at what Torrington did, they created an ordinance that allowed police to issue a fine for out-of-state cars. The kicker was they considered pima facia evidence being that the car was in Torrington, had out-of-state plates and the address for the car was within the state of Connecticut. Speaking from experience, you can not register a car out of state unless you have an out-of-state address. Of course, I agree with gentle reminders for people to transfer their registration to a new town while not having a residence in another state. We need less government regulations, not more.

        1. qstorm says:

          Up until July, Vermont would take your money and issue a registration and plate – and you didn’t have to live or even go to Vermont. Hence, lots of questionable Vermont tags around town. Sorry, but we need more law compliance and enforcement of current laws, not less. As for what I initially proposed, hire someone in the assessors office to match property tax payments with no vehicle tax payments. Send those folks a ‘gentle reminder’.

          1. tomj says:

            Interestingly, I have cars and two motorcycles registered in Vermont and they required a physical address in Vermont before registration. I also have a car registered in Maine and Florida, Maine was by far the easiest!

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