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Board of Assessors Chairwoman Paula King leads the council through the development of the tax classification recommendation.

Pittsfield Property Tax Rate Up 4.5 Percent for Fiscal 2017

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Councilors including Kevin Morandi, center, raised questions over the high commercial rate. Councilor at Large Kathleen Amuso, right, said those considerations should have been made at budget time.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The average homeowner can expect to see a $150 a year increase in property taxes for fiscal 2017.

The City Council on Tuesday night approved 8-3 a tax shift of 1.65, resulting in a tax rate of $19.63 per thousand assessed value, up 87 cents over this year, for residential and $39.78 per thousand for commercial, up from $38.06 this year.

The vote came after nearly 90 minutes of discussion and an unsuccessful attempt to lower the shift ratio to ease the burden on local businesses by Councilor at Large Melissa Mazzeo.

The average single-family home is calculated at $176,120, down from fiscal 2016's $176,234. The average tax bill will be $3,457, up from $3,306 last year.

In all, total single-family home values increased by $471,000, adding 10 more single-family homes in the city.

"Really it's pretty much status quo, the values really haven't fluctuated much at all within the single families," said Board of Assessors Chairwoman Paula King, who made the tax classification presentation.

Two-family homes lost value, with the 1,773 structures dropping in total value from $225.7 million to $223.47 million, more than $2 million, and about $1,000 on average, largely because of their condition, King said. The average tax rate on such building will increase about $100, from $2,390 last year to $2,474 this year.

The gains in numbers and value were in Individuals/Partnership/Trusts ($11 million); Corporations ($4.2 million); Agriculture ($76,300); and Recreational ($32,400). Public utilities and wireless phones also increased in value at $1.4 million and $1.2 million respectively.

The city's total value is $3.36 billion, up about $17 million.

The tax levy required to fund this year's budget $162 million budget is $81 million, up from $77 million appropriated last year, or 5.5 percent more. The city did see about $3.6 million in new growth in fiscal 2016, raising the levy ceiling to $84 million.

If the city had gone with a single tax rate for all properties, the rate would be $24.11 per thousand, up from an estimated $22.97 in fiscal 2016.

Mazzeo and others raised concerns that the commercial rate, in particular, would deter potential businesses and slow the city's the growth

"We're begging for them to come into our community and set up shop and bring in jobs for our community and it's almost $40 ... I'll be looking along the way to change that," she said, adding, "I think we have to have a deep, deep discussion on this tonight."

Councilor Kevin Morandi echoed her comments, asking King about the number of small businesses with values under $200,000.

King said of 742 commercial parcels, "a good majority of them are in that $200,000 range." But, she noted, there were also commercial properties worth millions, such as Berkshire Crossing and the Allendale Shopping Center.

"We're one of the highest if not the highest commercial rate in the state of Massachusetts," said Morandi, also pointing to the loss of 300 jobs from SABIC. "And here we're struggling for growth. ... If somebody's looking around and comes to Pittsfield and sees that tax rate, to me that's a deterrent and we really need to look at that. ...

"I'm concerned with the residential rate also."

Mazzeo motioned toward the end of the discussion to use a shift of 1.62, which would have raised the residential rate to $19.84 and dropped the commercial to $39.06. That was defeated 5-6.

Councilors Peter White, Kathleen Amuso, John Krol and President Peter Marchetti joined Mazzeo in voting aye; Morandi, Anthony Simonelli, Donna Todd Rivers, Christopher J. Connell, Nicholas Caccamo and Lisa Tully voted against.

Connell, of Ward 4, asked if the city could go one more decimal point, to 1.655, which would keep the commercial rate under $40 but give a slight relief to homeowners.

King said the state uses two decimal points in its software and wasn't sure how it would be possible to change that. Most communities also use that standard, she said.

Krol, of Ward 6, said a "lot of doom and gloom" was being raised over the budget but noted that some of the "up front" costs in the fiscal 2017 budget were for things taxpayers wanted, like more police presence, asking Mayor Linda Tyer to respond.

"We're looking at consolidations we think we can implement for FY18. We are also looking at some efficiencies in terms of simple things such as how we are managing our payroll," said Tyer. "We are looking at policies that would establish standards for how much free cash we should use annually, how much stabilization we want to raise. We're looking at strategies for how we can encourage new growth."

She saw public safety as a major consideration, saying a safer city would affect school choice, families moving in and businesses locating here. As for the commercial tax rate, Tyer said it seemed to be offset by the city's quality, low-cost commercial properties.  

"We're not going to be able to solve this in one budget," said Tyer. "This has to be a long-term strategy with all of the things I've suggested tonight completely at play. This is a dynamic strategy. There isn't one single magic bullet. It's going to take a lot of hard work on all of our parts."

Ward 7 Councilor Simonelli said his concern was the looming levy ceiling that had decreased from $6 million last fiscal year to $2 million this year.

"If we continue to raise the budget year after year after year, we're going to reach the limit and your numbers right here show that if it goes up 4 percent next year, we'll be at the limit, is that fair to say?" Simonelli said to King, who agreed. "It's very disheartening ... [new growth] is not going up, I believe, at the same rate our budget is going up. So sooner or later that collision course is going to hit and it looks like it maybe next year."

Ward 5 Councilor Rivers and at-Large Councilor Amuso both pointed out that the time to do something about the budget was last spring when it was approved.

"This is probably the worst meeting I attend," said Amuso. "We went through the budget in June and we couldn't get a majority vote for any of the reductions. Now we sit here tonight saying we've got to have reductions in the budget.

"We've got to do the work before we get here."

Rivers said she was one of those trying for reductions "but there was really little appetite for those conversations."

"It is the budget we supported, it was the budget we passed and is the budget we have to pay tonight."

The shift of 1.65 passed 8-3 with Morandi, Mazzeo and Simonelli voting against.

Tags: fiscal 2017,   tax classification,   

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