Sen. Kane: “Expanding the Oxford Airport Zone encourages entrepreneurial risk.”

August 21, 2013

From the August 21, 2013 Waterbury Republican-American:

Town leaders are holding talks with state officials to include Southbury as part of a new economic incentive zone surrounding Waterbury-Oxford Airport in Oxford.

First Selectman Ed Edelson along with officials from the Connecticut Airport Authority and the town’s planning and economic development boards discussed Tuesday a list of concerns ranging from traffic to how the tax incentive operates for businesses and what impact that could have on the community.

The town’s Economic Development Commission questioned whether the zone would be a good fit for town businesses, and requested a delay from being included as part of the first proposal approved earlier this month. The zone now includes Oxford and Middlebury.

Kevin Dillon, executive director of the Connecticut Airport Authority, told local and regional officials Tuesday that even within the zone, the town retains local jurisdiction when it comes to planning and zoning. The area simply provides an incentive for businesses to come to the region, he said. Business buildup doesn’t add up overnight in the zone, either, he said. At a similar zone developed around Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, only four businesses — mostly manufacturers — have qualified for the plan, he said.

“This does not attempt to change the town’s purview over zoning,” Dillon said. “It does not override anything.” The zone encircles a two-mile radius around the airport, an area where towns can request portions known as “census tracts” to be included as part of the incentive package. To be included in the zone, Southbury must first make a recommendation to the authority, which will ultimately review whether to add the town. The authority’s board of directors could take another vote as early as September.

Rep. Arthur O’Neill, R-Southbury, and Sen. Robert J. Kane, R-Watertown, spoke in favor of Southbury being included in the zone, adding that it could create jobs to offset taxes for homeowners. “It’s a boon for towns involved,” Kane said. “Expanding this zone encourages more businesses to take an entrepreneurial risk.”

Jennifer O’Neill, chairwoman of the Economic Development Commission, said that while she agrees the zone is a good plan overall, details about the how the tax program is divided between the state and the town need clarification. Businesses can apply for a five-year, 80 percent abatement of local property taxes on real and personal property as well as a 10-year, 25- to 50-percent credit on a portion of the state’s corporation tax. The airport authority approves which businesses may qualify for the plan, which O’Neill said can force participating communities to provide up to 40 percent in tax abatements without a say.

“Theoretically, you could have a town that’s not interested in giving that tax abatement to a particular business,” O’Neill said. “If it gets approved anyway, the town would be bound to provide that. That’s the concern that I have.”

Edelson said now boards and commissions have more time to review the plan, which he wants to see move forward. He plans to bring the issue up for a vote before the Board of Selectmen at its first meeting in September. “Basically, I don’t see a reason for us not to move forward,” Edelson said. “I heard nothing here that suggests we should not include our land as part of the census tracts.”