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Joe Ganim’s opponents file complaints over mayor’s property taxes

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Joe Ganim’s opponents file complaints over mayor’s property taxes

Feb 16, 2024 | 4:30 pm ET
By Andrew Brown and Dave Altimari
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Bridgeport Mayor Joseph P. Ganim speaks to the press outside the Fairfield County Courthouse after testifying on October 17, 2023. Opponent John Gomes has contested his victory in the Democratic primary elections. SHAHRZAD RASEKH / CT MIRROR
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Bridgeport Mayor Joseph P. Ganim speaks to the press outside the Fairfield County Courthouse after testifying on October 17, 2023. Opponent John Gomes has contested his victory in the Democratic primary elections.

This story has been updated.

Political opponents of Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim are raising questions about whether his brother, Tom Ganim, improperly helped to reduce the property taxes on a home shortly after the mayor purchased it in early 2021.

Jack Hennessy, a former Connecticut state legislator who is backing Joe Ganim’s mayoral challenger John Gomes, filed several complaints on Friday related to the mayor’s purchase of a more than 7,000 square-foot home in the Black Rock section of Bridgeport and a subsequent appeal that reduced the taxes on that property by 65%.

The complaints over the property were filed less than two weeks before Joe Ganim and Gomes are set to face off in a new general election on Feb. 27. The two men have been locked in a vicious mayoral campaign that was extended after a judge determined that several Ganim supporters likely violated state election laws by harvesting absentee ballots ahead of the city’s Democratic primary last September.

[How the battle for absentee ballots defined the Bridgeport election]

Joe Ganim purchased the home for $333,000 in January 2021. Property records reviewed by The Connecticut Mirror show the home was initially listed at $699,900 but had been on the market for months when the mayor’s offer was accepted.

Then, after the sale, the taxes owed on the property, at 37 Thorne Place, dropped from $29,000 per year to a little over $10,000, providing a substantial savings to the mayor.

Joe Ganim sold the property for more than $1.1 million last year. Not long before that, the property taxes on the home went back up to over $17,000 per year, due to several improvements he made to the property.

It was known that the mayor’s tax liability on that property was reduced starting in 2021, but records obtained by Hennessy and the Gomes campaign shed new light onto how the property taxes were slashed.

Joe Ganim did not respond to requests for an interview, which were sent to the mayor’s office. But Tiadora Josef, a spokeswoman for the mayor, forwarded an email that was drafted by an official in the Bridgeport Assessor’s office that argued the tax adjustment was handled appropriately.

The complaints that Hennessy sent to the Bridgeport Ethics Commission, the Connecticut Attorney General’s office and Connecticut’s Statewide Grievance Committee, which polices attorney misconduct, focus on two issues with the property transaction.

They question whether it was ethical for Tom Ganim, who is an attorney, to represent Mary Daley, the woman Joe Ganim purchased the home from.

The complaints also question how Tom Ganim was able to challenge the tax assessment on the property on behalf of Daley after she had already sold the property to the mayor. The complaint cites a Connecticut law that states only the individuals or entities paying the taxes on the property can appeal an assessment.

City property records show Daley signed over the deed for the house to Joe Ganim on Jan. 14, 2021. The next day, Tom Ganim filed paperwork with the city on Daley’s behalf to challenge the tax assessment on the property.

The document that Tom Ganim filed with the Bridgeport Assessor’s Office claimed that the assessed value of the property was drastically inflated and should be reduced. And as evidence for that claim, he cited the purchase price that Joe Ganim agreed to pay for the house.

The document does not mention that the mayor was the purchaser of that home.

“The assessed value far exceeds the true property value. The property just sold on 1/14/2021 for $333,000,” wrote Tom Ganim, who signed the document on the line reserved for the listed owner of the property.

Tom Ganim did not respond to emailed questions for this story that asked why he filed the tax appeal, how he came to represent Mary Daley and why the document doesn’t mention that his brother had purchased the property, which is located near the shoreline in Bridgeport. 

Hennessy’s complaint asks how Tom Ganim — or Daley — had standing to contest the tax bill on the property, since the house was already sold to Joe Ganim by that point.

“It is extremely questionable why Mary Daley would care about the value of her home the day after it was sold,” the written complaint states. “It seems highly unethical, based on attorney-client relationships, that the brother of the buyer would represent the seller’s best interest in a real-estate transaction.”

The timing of the tax appeal, Hennessy said, calls into question who Tom Ganim was actually representing when he petitioned the assessor’s office: his client or his brother.

“This windfall savings only benefited the new homeowner, Mayor Joseph Ganim,” Hennessy wrote in the complaint.

The email that the mayor’s office sent to the CT Mirror in response to questions about this story argued that there was nothing out the ordinary about the tax revision on the property, and it suggested that Ganim did not receive any benefit that wasn’t available to other taxpayers in Bridgeport.

That email, which was written by William Gaffney, the city’s part-time assessor, said the tax reduction on Ganim’s property was a normal part of a city-wide property tax revaluation that took place in Bridgeport in late 2020.

Any property owner who was paying taxes in Bridgeport, Gaffney said, had the same opportunity to challenge the tax assessments on their homes and businesses around that time.

The property taxes on 37 Thorne Place, Gaffney explained, were ultimately reduced after the assessor’s office inspected the property and agreed that it “required significant renovation/remodeling at the time of the transfer.”

But Gaffney’s email, which was sent to Ken Flatto, the city finance director in February 2023, does not mention that the property they were discussing was owned by the mayor, nor does it address whether it was proper for his brother to petition the city for the tax reduction.

It’s unclear who within the city conducted the inspection on the mayor’s property before the taxes were reduced. Tom Ganim’s request for an informal hearing was approved by someone with the initials “MF,” the documents show.

The complaints that were filed by Hennessy on Friday allege those initials belong to Michael Fazio, a partner with Municipal Valuation Services, the company that was paid to perform the revaluation on all of the properties in Bridgeport in 2020.

Fazio did not return a phone call or email for this story.

This isn’t the first time that Ganim’s ownership of the house in Black Rock has drawn public attention.

The Connecticut Post previously reported that Ganim violated the city’s ordinances by listing the house as a short term rental. The Post also reported on Ganim’s failure to obtain building permits for the improvements that were made to the house.

But the allegations over how the taxes were adjusted on the property could be more serious for Ganim, who returned to the mayor’s office in 2015 after serving a seven-years prison sentence on federal corruption charges.

Bridgeport residents pay some of the highest property tax rates in Connecticut, according to data collected by the state.

Clarification

This story was updated to reflect that it is unclear when Tom Ganim initially requested an informal hearing on the Thorne Place property’s assessment.

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