Finance Committee Recommends Tax Hike
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Finance Committee on Monday night voted to recommend a tax classification that will see residential taxes rise 10.8 percent this year, the biggest hike in the last decade.
Committee member Alan Marden, however, objected that the public hadn't had a chance to really weigh in on the issue.
"We're ramming it through. We were going to be a more open government ... I think you've ignored the public," said Marden, who wondered "where the public was going to get this information."
"Where did they get it the last 10 years?" responded Mayor Richard Alcombright. "I've been saying there's going to be a 10 percent increase since March. This just established it into a rate that's approved."
Chairman Michael Bloom said the committee had worked on the budget all year long. "Here we are a month and half ahead of last year; we've got documentation we've never seen before and last year we waited to the last minute ...
"None of us want to raise taxes but we have to do this is in a responsible manner ... I don't know how more open we can get."
The increase is in large part because of the economic collapse that occurred two years ago that dried up state revenues and caused property values to drop. The city has relied heavily on reserves to balance the budget over the past few years.
"This financial collapse was like a tsunami or hurricane," said Mayor Richard Alcombright, which has left municipalities and the state struggling through the aftermath. "Our chaos right now is a 10 percent increase to keep our services alive and next year it may be a $2 million cut to survive. ... It's gut wrenching, it's painful but we'll get past it."
The classification rates to be presented to the City Council on Tuesday night are residential, commercial, industria and personal. Open space is also included but with a zero value because the city has no guidelines or ordinances to value it.
The bulk of the $12,854,065 in taxes to be raised comes from residential. Adopting a "shift" of 1.75 toward commercial will lower the burden on residential from 77 percent to 60 percent of the total taxes. Commercial will pick up 25.7 percent, for a tax rate of more than $31; industrial will be apportioned just over 6 percent and personal property, 8.
The average tax increase has been 6 percent over the past four years and taxes overall have increased by half over the past decade. The owner of an average home in North Adams, at about $136,000, should see her taxes rise about $200.
If the Super Walmart or Lowe's comes in, commercial revenues will increase. That will allow the city to reduce the commercial burden by decreasing the shift but shouldn't affect the residential rate.
The city will come within $776 of its levy limit.
"Last year, we left $800,000 on the table, this year we're picking it all up to balance the budget," said the mayor.
In response to a question from resident Robert Cardimino, Business Manager Nancy Ziter said the city's property valuations had only declined about 2 percent — compared to 20 percent in some parts of the country — because they had not risen as quickly either.
"In all fairness, even though the increase is 10.8 percent, the impact could be worse," said committee Chairman Michael Bloom, considering the commercial/residental split.
Although voting with Bloom and member David Bond to recommend adoption of the classification, Marden wondered if it City Council approval couldn't be put off a bit longer.
The mayor said it was a matter of getting the final numbers to the state (the city's valuation has already been certified) and then setting up billing. Ziter said bills had to go out before the first of the year and that the process is time consuming — printing alone takes two days.
"You don't have to approve it tomorrow night but the sooner the better."