Category Archives: Economy

[OPINION] Tax On Firearms: An Idea Worth Pursuing?

Like many of her fellow RTM members, Christine Meiers Schatz has been thinking about taxes — and guns. The other day, she posted these thoughts on her blog:

As an elected official, I’m acutely aware of the need to reduce local tax burdens – this year more than ever due to changes in federal tax law. But I can’t shake an idea I’ve had for a new, local “Pigovian” personal property tax on firearms.

Maybe you can help me figure out whether it is an idea worth pursuing.

Pigovian taxes correct inefficient market outcomes and are favored even by conservative Republican economists. By taxing an activity/ownership that has societal costs, a Pigovian tax shifts some of this “external” cost (an “externality”) back on to the property owner. In addition, the revenue raised could fund measures designed to mitigate these social costs.

Westport residents own over 6,000 firearms.

Westport residents own over 6,741 registered firearms, and the related externalities have made recent headlines. For example, Police Chief Foti Koskinas encouraged the town to proactively address residents’ mental health in light of the number of registered firearms. At a fundraiser in December he explained, “I’m not anti-Second Amendment; people have the right to defend themselves. But we need to have a conversation in town about mental illness. It’s gun common sense.”

Likewise, the number of registered firearms has been mentioned as one of many reasons for the town to hire School Resource Officers to protect students in our public schools. Some economists have even estimated that the average annual marginal societal cost of gun ownership is up to $600 per household.

Assuming an average $500 assessed value for each of the 6,741 registered firearms and using last year’s mill rate, the tax would raise over $56,000 each year for local safety and mental health initiatives.

The tax might be the first of its kind, however, which raises some questions:

Would the tax be Constitutional?
I think it might be.  According to the Connecticut Department of Revenue Services, “nothing in taxing firearms, in any way, infringes upon an individual’s constitutional right to bear arms.”

Generally, taxes need only be justified by a rational governmental purpose. This is a low bar, and – especially with respect to Constitutional issues – a much lower bar than what would be applied to a regulation regarding gun ownership. In fact, a Washington State Supreme Court recently deemed constitutional a different type of local tax on firearms.

The tax would be set at the mill rate, and at 16.86 that equates to a tax of of less than $9 for a $500 gun. This doesn’t seem confiscatory or excessive.  The $9 is meant to fund local social programs as a complement to gun ownership – and not meant to limit access to firearms in any way.

Does the town have the right to levy a personal property tax on guns?
Under Connecticut General Statutes Sections 203–204, Connecticut towns have the right to tax personal property subject to a long list of exceptions. There doesn’t seem to be any sort of exception related to firearms.

Would the tax lead to more unregistered firearms?
This is an important question, and I’m not sure of the answer. It does appear, however, that the state of Connecticut requires sellers to report all firearm sales to local law enforcement.

Is Westport willing to burden the potential risks of being an innovator here?
It is possible that the tax might be challenged, though perhaps a large law firm might donate legal services for its defense (any volunteers?). If not, legal costs might exceed revenue for at least the first year.

It has also been suggested to me that Westport might receive national attention if it is the first to implement a personal property tax on firearms, and that’s not the kind of attention that the town wants or needs.

Christine would like to know what you think. Click “Comments” below.

Staples Tuition Grants: 75 Years In 8 Minutes

Staples Tuition Grants turns 75 years old this year.

To celebrate, the organization — which last year provided over $300,000 in scholarships to 115 Staples High School seniors and graduates with financial need — threw a fundraising party this month.

The event met its goal: over $75,000 in donations. (For 75 years — get it?).

One of the night’s highlights was a video. Produced by talented Westport filmmaker (and Staples grad) Doug Tirola, it featured well-known residents and SHS alums like Christopher Jones, Justin Paul, Ned Batlin, Linda Bruce, Jessica Branson, Miggs Burroughs, Anne Hardy, Dan Donovan and Maggie Mudd. They offered insights into their own scholarships and those named for loved ones, plus thoughts on the importance of college and life.

The video — filled joy and heartache, humor and love — is well worth the 8 minutes. Enjoy!

(For more information on Staples Tuition Grants, or to donate, click here.)

Home Energy Solutions $ave $$$

First Selectman Jim Marpe did it. Human Services director Elaine Daignault did it. Over 2,000 Westporters did it too.

“It” is offer up their houses for a Home Energy Solutions Assessment.

They learned whether their doors, windows and ductwork were leaking air. They found out if their insulation made the grade, and if their appliances were wasting energy and money.

When air leaks were found, they got caulked. Light bulbs were replaced with LEDs. Low-flow shower heads were installed, and pipes wrapped with insulation.

A blower test discovers leaks in your home you never knew you had.

The average yearly savings in Connecticut from a Home Energy Solutions Assessment is $200 to $250. This being Westport — where homes are larger, more filled with “stuff” — that figure can be much higher.

It’s a win-win: You help the environment, and save money.

But wait! There’s more!

The Home Energy Solutions Challenge is now underway.  The first 50 Westporters to complete an HES assessment pay only $74. If you’re not in that group, the cost is still quite low: $149. There are rebates on certain appliances and installation of new windows and insulation, too.

And if you’re an income-eligible resident — including renters — there is no cost at all for the service.

The catch — and you can’t even call it that — is that the service is paid for by everyone, through a small surcharge on electricity and natural gas bills.

During the Home Energy Solutions Assessment, a nice guy will even check your bulbs.

The program is promoted by Westport’s Green Task Force and New England Smart Energy Group. The latter organization helped Westport win the Neighbor to Neighbor Energy Challenge in 2013. We had the most number of HES visits and upgrades in the state.

Interested? Click here, or call 203-292-8088 for an appointment.

Not interested? The only acceptable excuse is that — like Jim Marpe, Elaine Daignault and 2,000 other Westporters — you’ve already had it done.

We’re #19. That’s Rich!

Nearly every day, someone sends me a story with a Westport ranking.

Our school system is #1 (or #5 or #163) in the state (or nation).

We are the 13th most livable community in the country, or the 29th safest.

We have the most dogs per capita in Connecticut. Or Teslas. Or toaster ovens.

Most of those emails are quickly deleted. Statistical parameters are arbitrary. Some of the surveys are contradictory (Staples is rising in the rankings! No, it’s falling!) The stories themselves are clickbait.

But here’s one worth publishing. It’s based on fairly hard data.

And, on this slow news day, it’s sure to generate comments.

Bloomberg has just released its list of “America’s 100 Richest Places.” The only criterion: average household income (according to 2016 US Census data).

The richest community in the country is Atherton, California. That Silicon Valley town — near Stanford University, Facebook headquarters and other wealthy, high-status, high-tech stuff — had an average household income of $443,400.

A typical house in Atherton, California …

Scarsdale, New York was 3rd ($387,600). The first Connecticut town was Old Greenwich (#7, $334,900). Darien was 10th ($327,900).

Westport is the 3rd Connecticut town on the list. We check in at #19. Our 2016 average household was $282,400.

Let the comments begin.

(Click here for the full Bloomberg story. Hat tip: Avi Kaner)

… and a typical one in Westport. (Okay, it was recently sold by a guy named Harvey Weinstein.)

Johanna Rossi Turns New York Purple

Johanna Rossi is a senior hedge fund trader.

She’s one of the top women on Wall Street. And she’s doing all she can to change that.

Not that she wants to lose her position. She just wants other women to join her.

In her spare time, the Westporter is a leader of Securities Traders Association of New York — Women in Finance.

Last year, Johanna asked the Durst Organization to shine a light on International Women’s Day. The real estate giant quickly agreed to light One World Trade Center purple.

One World Trade Center, on International Women’s Day 2017.

This year — thanks again to Johanna — Durst is adding purple lights to One Bryant Park and nearby 4 Times Square.

In addition, Durst is allowing STANY-WIF to use the coveted Spire app. It allows users to change the color of spires from their cellphones.

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #PressForProgress. The goal is to “motivate and unite friends, colleagues and whole communities to think, act and be gender inclusive.”

It’s something Johanna Rossi has been doing for years.

(For more on Johanna Rossi and her pioneering work with women on Wall Street, click here. For more on International Women’s Day, click here.)

On International Women’s Day 2016, Johanna Rossi helped ring the NASDAQ bell to celebrate gender equality.

 

Next Generation Steps Up: Will Haskell Throws Hat In State Senate Ring

In the summer of 2016, Will Haskell worked for the Democratic National Committee. Assigned to the “voter protection team,” he researched states that were making it harder for certain citizens — like young people and minorities — to vote.

The 2014 Staples High School graduate wondered what was happening in his home state. To his surprise, he says, he discovered that his own state senator — Toni Boucher — spent “2 decades making it harder to vote.” For example, he says, she opposed early voting, and tried to block online registration.

Then he dug deeper. He saw she’d opposed paid family leave bills, equal pay for equal work, and said that certain gun restrictions put in place after Sandy Hook went too far. She has previously received an A- rating from the National Rifle Association.

“Actually, I think we haven’t gone far enough on gun regulations,” he says. “Our tough gun laws made Connecticut one of the safest states in the country. But there is so much more we can do, from regulating conceal-carry to cracking down on bad-apple gun suppliers.”

Will Haskell and Darcy Hicks (center), at a Westport rally last year supporting gun legislation.

Haskell wondered who had run against her. He found out she’s had minimal opposition for years.

Which is why today, Will Haskell announces his candidacy for state senate from the 26th District.

He’s only 21. He still has a couple of months before he graduates from Georgetown University. He’s deferred enrollment in law school to run.

But he’s in it to win it.

Will Haskell

Haskell spent last summer working in the state’s public defender office, learning about the criminal justice system and the cost of mass incarceration. At night he traveled throughout the 7-town district, listening and learning about the people and issues.

One of the most important is transportation. Trains run slower today than they did in the 1950s, Haskell says — yet the transportation fund is regularly dipped into, for other uses. He supports a transportation “lockbox,” which he says Boucher opposes.

Another key issue is the number of young people leaving Connecticut. He looks at the current legislature, and sees virtually no one of his generation. He believes their voices must be heard.

“Toni Boucher says GE and Aetna left the state because of high taxes,” Haskell says. “But they’re moving to places with high taxes. There’s something more going on.

“We need to look at tax credits, to keep students from Connecticut’s great schools here after they graduate. We need paid family leave policies too.”

Haskell says the 26th district is “moderate.” Hillary Clinton won it by 23 points. He looks forward to working with anyone, of any party, to achieve his goals.

Fortunately, he says, running for office in Connecticut is not expensive. If he raises qualifying funds, he’ll have the same amount of money as his opponent. He’s already organized a series of fundraisers.

Haskell is not a political neophyte. In past years he’s worked on the successful campaigns of Senator Chris Murphy and Congressman Jim Himes, as well as with Hillary for America.

Will Haskell with Hillary Clinton.

Reaction to his candidacy has been positive, Haskell says. “I know I look more like 12 than 21. Most state senators don’t look like me. But that’s why I’m running. I, and people like me, have a stake in our future.”

He’s not apologizing for his age. Far from it.

One of his inspirations came from Barack Obama. In his farewell speech, the outgoing president urged anyone dissatisfied with the current political climate to “grab a clipboard, get some signatures and run for office yourself.” Haskell calls himself “a stakeholder in the future.”

Besides his age, Haskell faces the challenge of running against a well-known and respected incumbent. “I have to make sure people know her voting record,” Haskell says. “She’s opposed to voter accessibility, and criminal justice reform.”

As he travels through the district he hopes to represent — all of Westport, Wilton, Ridgefield and Redding, and parts of Weston, Bethel and New Canaan — Haskell will make his case.

“My platform emphasizes long-term investments in infrastructure, reliable funding for our schools, more robust cooperation between our towns and cities, addressing widespread opioid addiction as the public health crisis it is, and policies that will draw other young people to live and work in Connecticut.”

He’ll be helped by his years at Staples, where he talked about politics with social studies, English, even chemistry teachers. He was aided too by his years in the Players drama troupe. As a senior, he was elected Players president.  Being on stage, he says, “gave me the confidence to stand up and talk in front of others.” (He also became a noted voice speaking against cyber-bullying.)

Staples Players president Will Haskell, in “Avenue Q.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

Harking back to his summer with the DNC voter protection team, Haskell says, “Republicans don’t want my generation near the ballot.” This fall, he promises, “my generation will be on the ballot.”

 

Westporters Lead Norwalk Hospital Board

When Amy Schafrann recruited Mark Gudis for the Norwalk Hospital board of directors, it seemed like a good fit.

The senior investment professional had spent much of his career examining healthcare companies. His wife MaryGrace was already on the hospital’s foundation board.

He found the work fascinating. “The landscape is changing so rapidly,” he says. “But people will always get sick. Working on the board is all about seeing what we can do to make things better for everyone.”

Then Gudis himself got sick.

A health scare in early 2013 caused him to reflect on what was most important in his life.

Mark Gudis

“It was humbling and scary,” he says. “But it made me a better person. I’m more focused now on doing things that benefit others.”

Which is why Gudis has just been named chairman of the Norwalk Hospital Association board of directors. And Schafrann — who recruited him years ago — is the new vice chair. Both are longtime Westporters.

Gudis has 4 goals for the hospital. He wants to engage all 1,400 employees, making sure they’re growing in their jobs and satisfied with their work; ensure that the hospital’s 425 physicians get whatever they need to serve patients; continue to enhance and innovate the hospital’s work in the community, and make continuous improvement in safety and security.

For 125 years, Norwalk Hospital has been a part of the local community. But it’s also moved forward, extending its reach and resources.

In October, the hospital partnered with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. That means accelerated access to the latest treatments — and Sloan Kettering’s renowned physicians — right here at home.

The hospital is also allied with Connecticut Children’s Medical Center — which means improved inpatient medical care for kids.

And Norwalk Hospital is collaborating with Northwell Health, the large New York provider, to share best practices and provide better buying power.

“So a community hospital can have all the resources of a large metropolitan hospital,” Gudis explains.

Last year, Norwalk Hospital did 10,000 surgeries, and treated 50,000 emergency room patients.

“We’ve done a good job,” Gudis notes. “The Norwalk Hospital of 10 years ago is not the Norwalk Hospital of today — or tomorrow. It’s very exciting.”

He looks forward to working with Schafrann. The 1972 graduate of Staples High School — who spent 20 years as a Yankelovich managing partner, and now runs a college consulting firm — says that for many years she took the hospital for granted.

Twenty-eight years ago, she went into labor at 26 weeks. Her daughter Sara was born — weighing just 1.5 pounds.

“It was a very scary time,” Schafrann says. She and her husband Richard grew to appreciate the neonatal intensive care unit.

After 3 months of “incredible care,” Sara went home. She weighed 5 pounds.

Her story ends happily. A few months ago, several doctors and nurses attended Sara’s wedding. She earns her doctorate in clinical and social psychology this May, and will work with children with learning disabilities and special needs.

Amy Schafrann

“We wanted to give back to the hospital that gave us our wonderful daughter,” Schafrann says. At first, she and her husband made financial donations to the unit.

Several years ago, she was asked to join the Foundation board. Now she’s vice chair of the full board.

Schafrann is proud of the Circle of Caring/Grateful Patients program she founded. It encourages notes of appreciation to doctors, nurses, aides, meal deliverers, technicians — anyone who made a paitent’s stay easier or better.

While co-chair of the Whittingham Cancer Center Walk/Run — with fellow Westporter Tammy Zelkowitz — Schafrann recruited local students to form teams. She’ll continue to search for ways to keep teenagers involved in the hospital.

Her goal on the board is “to help deliver high-quality care. With all the financial pressures, many local hospitals have disappeared. Through our network, with economies of scale and thanks to our donors, we’ll continue to provide advanced emergency care, state-of-the-art cancer treatment, and community health and wellness.”

New Name For Westport Country Playhouse

The Westport Country Playhouse — which already includes the Lucille Lortel White Barn Center, and the Sheffer studio space — is adding another name to its property.

In fact, the entire campus will now be called The Howard J. Aibel Theater Center at Westport Country Playhouse.

The change recognizes a $3 million gift from the local resident, and current vice chair of the board of trustees.

Howard Aibel

“I have found live theater to be life transformative,” Aibel — a retired attorney, who formerly served as chief legal officer of ITT Corporation — says.

“Being a supporter of the Westport Country Playhouse has been a rich and grand experience.”

Playhouse artistic director Mark Lamos says, “This is not only financial sustenance. It is spiritual sustainability. His belief now enables us to create the highest level of work.”

Of Aibel’s grant, $500,000 is designated for current operations, and $500,000 for working capital reserve. A bequest of $2 million to establish an endowment is held in an irrevocable trust.

Aibel retired as a partner of Dewey & LeBoeuf, where he focused on international dispute resolution. He served as president of the Harvard Law School Association of New York, and chair of the American Arbitration Association. He is also chair emeritus of the Alliance of Resident Theatres/NY.

I’m not sure how many people will actually refer to the Playhouse as the Howard Aibel Theatre Center.

But there will be a nice sign on the 87-year-old iconic red building to remind everyone that while the arts are important to Westport’s heritage, they need the financial support of people like Aibel, who have the means — and desire — to help keep them alive.

Artist’s rendering of the new sign above the Westport Country Playhouse entrance.

Celebrating 75 Years Of Staples Tuition Grants

In 1943, the Staples High School PTA gave $100 to a group of Westporters. They in turn found a worthy recipient, who would otherwise be unable to attend college.

With that donation, Staples Tuition Grants was born.

In 2017 — nearly 75 years later — the organization provided $300,000 in assistance to over 100 recipients. They were graduating seniors, and college students who had received previous grants. They’re attending public and private universities, junior colleges and vocational schools.

They supplement their grants with jobs. They work hard. They’re grateful that college — exponentially more expensive than ever — can be a reality.

Some of the awardees at the 2015 Staples Tuition Grants ceremony.

STG is rightfully proud that for three-quarters of a century, they’ve provided millions of dollars to tens of thousands of students.

So they’re throwing a party. The theme — naturally — is “75 years of college.”

Set for Saturday, March 10 (7 p.m., Branson Hall at Christ & Holy Trinity Church), the casual, fun event features college-ish food (pizza, burgers), drink (keg beer, wine) and music from (most) attendees’ college years. There could be ping pong and foosball too.

Party-goers are encouraged to wear their school colors or logowear. A 1955 recipient has already RSVP-ed. Organizers hope other former recipients will attend too.

The cost is $75. (It’s a fundraiser, obviously.) Organizers are soliciting 75 business sponsors, at $100 each (in honor of that first-ever grant).

Gault Energy and Melissa & Doug have signed on as lead sponsors.

Igor Pikayzen — a 2005 Staples grad, and STG recipient — will play. Westport filmmaker Doug Tirola — whose father was on the STG board — is making a special video. Former STG recipients Ned Batlin and Trevor Lally will give brief remarks. So will Miggs Burroughs, who designed the logo.

Everyone — Staples grads, and those of every other high school; college alumni and people who never went; anyone who ever got a scholarship, and anyone who did not — is invited to the 75th anniversary celebration.

Let’s make sure that Staples Tuition Grants is still doing great deeds in 2093 — 75 years from now.

(Click here for tickets to the 75th anniversary celebration, and more information. If you’re a former recipient and would like to be taped for a video, or are interested in helping sponsor the event, email poley@optonline.net.)

Screw Connecticut! Stay In Florida!

You know all those Florida license plates you see around Westport?

Most of them belong to Westporters with 2nd homes. It’s a good life. But it does come with perils.

Like making sure you don’t spend so much time here, you’d have to pay state income taxes.

As with everything these days, there’s an app for that.

For just $19.99 a year, TaxBird can save you thousands. It tracks your location, showing how many days you’ve spent in each state — and how many days you have left.

You’re automatically notified when you approach a state residency threshold.

That’s an interesting story for those of us — I mean, of you — with 2nd homes.

But there’s an even stronger “06880” connection: Co-founder Jim Simon lives in Westport.

Some of the time.

He became a Florida resident to avoid Connecticut taxes, he tells the Greenwich blog For What It’s Worth.

So the next time you see people in Westport with Florida plates, tell them about TaxBird.

On second thought, don’t.

We need their taxes.

(Hat tip: Iain Bruce)

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