Despite a sour economy and a dip in the number of costly cars on the property tax rolls, the city’s Grand List rose slightly.
“We can probably consider ourselves somewhat fortunate,” Mayor Art Ward said.
The $4.3 billion tally of the city’s taxable property was up a little less $10 million over last year thanks to continuing growth at ESPN and a scattering of new homes and business across town, according to City Assessor Thomas DeNoto.
The rise is “a silver lining in a year that could have been devastating,” the assessor said.
Last year, the Grand List rose 38 percent on the heels of a revaluation that captured the residential real estate market at its peak. Another revaluation won’t take place for a few years.
The increase for this year – which comes at a time that a number of municipalities have seen their property tax rolls take a dip – is driven entirely by the rising value of real estate in Bristol.
The real estate roll, which covers buildings and land, rose $31.3 million, which includes 28 new homes, the L.A. Fitness building on Farmington Avenue and ESPN paying more for its buildings as tax exemptions fall away.
The biggest blow came on the motor vehicle list, which fell from $342 million to $320 million in a single year, the result of people buying fewer cars and a drop in the overall number of vehicles on the tax rolls.
DeNoto said the woes afflicting the Big Three automakers clearly filtered down to Bristol, where “gas guzzlers” fell out of favor and people stopped purchasing big new cars.
Ward said it’s natural that people are “tightening their belts” to cope with an increasingly severe downturn.
There are 54,479 motor vehicles on the city’s tax list, which is 192 fewer than a year ago, according to DeNoto’s figures.
The personal property tally – mostly the equipment used by businesses – fell $2.2 million over the past year, the Grand List shows.
“We’re lucky to have any growth” considering the decline in the motor vehicle and personal property lists, DeNoto said.
He said it shows the underlying strength of Bristol’s economy and programs that it could see new development during such a difficult period for so many businesses and residents.
Helping to keep the personal property from falling further were ESPN’s readiness to remain on the cutting edge of technology, DeNoto said, along with a number of other factors, including the road construction equipment in town for the Route 72 extension.
DeNoto said that he expects next year’s Grand List to remain “stagnant at best” given the economy, though car sales might pick up again.
It should help, too, that ESPN is still building, the new city industrial park is likely to have a couple of new factories and some other development is possible as well, DeNoto said.
The Grand List does not include hundreds of millions of dollars worth of exempt property, including Bristol Hospital, churches, cemeteries and parks.
ESPN towers over rest
The city’s largest taxpayer, ESPN, owns taxable property worth only $2.4 million more than last year.
That’s because much of its growth doesn’t count until it’s been on the property rolls for years.
But its $247.8 million tally on this year’s Grand List is almost eight times as much as the city’s number two taxpayer: the Covanta trash-burning plant.
Since taxpayers actually pick up the incinerator’s property tax bill, through the regional trash agency, that’s probably just as well.
City Assessor Thomas DeNoto said he’s not concerned that ESPN alone pays 5.6 percent of the city’s property taxes because the company is so clearly committed to remaining a part of the community.
“They’re just a fabulous property owner,” DeNoto said. “They’re always cutting edge.”
The company wouldn’t have built backup power plants to run its operations on the ESPN campus off Middle Street, he said, if it had any thoughts of moving away.
Besides, DeNoto said, ESPN has always been “very forthcoming” about its plans.
“They’re an open book to the city,” he said.
Other top taxpayers include Bristol Center, the current owner of the former General Motors plant on Chippens Hill; Bristol Plaza; Bristol Commons; Carpenter Reality, the owner of Pine Plaza; Lake Compounce; Connecticut Light & Power; and two manufacturers, Barnes Group and Theis Precision Steel.
TOP 10 Taxpayers
1 ESPN $247.8 million
2 COVANTA BRISTOL $42.8 million
4 BRISTOL CENTER $36.3 million
3 CONNECTICUT LIGHT & POWER CO. $29.4 million
5 CARPENTER REALTY COMPANY $25.1 million
6 BRISTOL PLAZA $22.6 million
7 LAKE COMPOUNCE $19.4 million
8 BRISTOL PLAZA $16.7 million
9 THEIS PRECISION STEEL $15.7 million
10 BARNES GROUP $13.9 million
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