Durham Adopts Ordinance Exempting Car Tax on Certain Vehicles

Vehicles that are modified to accommodate a disabled person will not be subjected to annual property taxes, provided the person registers it with the town.

First Selectman Laura Francis speaking before the residents of Durham on Monday, Jan. 13. Credit: Ronald DeRosa
First Selectman Laura Francis speaking before the residents of Durham on Monday, Jan. 13. Credit: Ronald DeRosa
Durham residents who own a car or a minivan modified to accommodate a person with disabilities won’t have to pay property taxes on that vehicle anymore.

Residents approved during a special town meeting on Monday, Jan. 13, an ordinance that exempts these types of vehicles — an example being a mini-van with a modified door to accommodate a wheelchair — from the annual car tax.

Roughly 40 people attended the special meeting, and only one person who voted opposed the ordinance. With the residents' approval, the ordinance is now adopted.

For a Durham resident to seek this exemption, that person must have a registered motor vehicle in town and must provide a note from a doctor explaining why these modifications to the vehicle are necessary, explained Assessor John S. Philip.

“The exemption is tied to the person with disabilities, not to the car,” he said. The disabled person can either be the owner, or a relative of the owner, such as a spouse or child.

Philip told the residents in attendance that the language in the ordinance was taken, more-or-less, from legislation the state passed last year allowing for these types of exemptions in Connecticut towns.

During the course of the discussion several questions were raised, however, as to how Durham might stem potential situations in which a person tries to take advantage of this exemption.

In response, First Selectman Laura Francis said the key requirement is the doctor’s note explaining the person’s disability. Without that, a person who simply has a vehicle that may be modified cannot seek the tax exemption.

She said that, according to the preliminary research, there are only two vehicles in Durham that would be subject to this tax exemption. By comparison, Hartford currently has 15, Philip said.

Philip noted that he has been involved with the implementation of this type of ordinance in two other towns over the past 15 years, and he’s never been aware of a situation where a person tries to get a property exemption just by having a modified vehicle.

Two amendments were also approved during the course of the meeting: changing the date for residents to apply for the exemption from Dec. 31 to Jan. 31 and ensuring that this new ordinance supersedes any previous ones.

Francis also said that the town did discover it had a similar ordinance on the books from the late 1990s, but this older one was never codified in the town's online database. Rather than tabling the newer ordinance, Francis said the town decided to move forward with enacting this newer ordinance because it takes advantage of the newer state law.
Donia Viola January 14, 2014 at 10:51 AM
If the person for whom the vehicle was modified should pass away, how would the Town of Durham become aware of the death and, accordingly, change the status of the vehicle's tax exemption? There is no mention in the ordinance that stipulates a timely review of any application submitted and approved.
Brigid January 14, 2014 at 12:57 PM
Seems to me, Donia, that if the person passes away the car would eventually be sold or no longer registered. No registration. No taxes due.
Scott Wheeler January 14, 2014 at 10:21 PM
That is one sweet deal, wish I did not have to pay taxes on my vehicle that I have to have to be able to pay taxes due to the lack of public transportation. I would have saved $1000 for my vehicle that I need to get to my job and tow my boat.
Donia Viola January 14, 2014 at 10:30 PM
Should a death occur by the handicapped person for which the vehicle was used, the vehicle may be transferred to another family member or retained by the driver (as the ordinance is applied for the use of any handicapped member of the family and not directed to only a handicapped driver) which might allow someone to continue to use it until such time that it was discovered that the use of it for any disabled person was no longer practiced. If this were to happen, it clearly would be a violation of the ordinance which is the main reason why there needs to be at least an annual review and ensure continuance without reproach.
Brigid January 15, 2014 at 02:14 PM
Donia, If the person dies, the car must be re-registered and proof given that the tax exemption is still warranted. Scott, I hope you realize how lucky you are. You can afford to own a boat and you are strong and healthy enough to drive to work. This ordinance is for people who are handicapped to the point of needing vehicle modifications.
Donia Viola January 15, 2014 at 09:15 PM
Brigid, I think you might be focused on the registered vehicle as being strictly registered in the handicapped person's name which, as I tried to point out, would not be the case if the handicapped person were someone other than the driver/owner. Besides, with the cost of new vehicles, it might not be in the best interest of the remaining family members to immediately look to sell the vehicle because there's no guarantees it would sell easily either, modified as it were. Without a periodic review, there would be no assurance that the ordinance was being adhered to as directed.
Scott Wheeler January 15, 2014 at 10:37 PM
Brigid, it has nothing to do with what people own or their capacity but the dependence of an automobile to get life done. I can stare the people who get this terrific tax benefit in the eyes and tell them I need a vehicle as much as they do. It has nothing to do with monetary standing, it has to do with equality for all people who depend on an auto to get through the day. I would love to take the bus or train to work everyday and have my son take public transportation but it is not in our community. Regarding the boat remark it is what it is; I need a powerful large vehicle to tow or I cannot maintain my hobby. If these several individuals are living below the poverty level than perhaps Durham is not the right town to live in due to the insane Mil rate.


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