The Board of Selectmen has set the tax rate for businesses and homeowners in town of Adams, Massachusetts.
The Selectmen unanimously voted to maintain a 15 percent shift tax levy towards commercial property for fiscal year 2014. The decision sets the residential rate at $19.95 and the commercial rate at $23.69. Compared to last year, these figures represent an increase of $1.70 per $1,000 of assessed value of a residential property and a jump of $2.02 for commercial.
“Do you want us to stop plowing the roads or helping out the elderly which we do so greatly in this town?” Selectman Joseph Nowak said. “Do you want us to shortchange the students? A lot of people would say no. I’m not for raising taxes, but I’m also a realist when it comes to what needs to be done in this community.”
The town’s $14.2 million budget, of which $9.6 million comes from taxes, has already been approved. The board’s vote simply determines how the money will be raised. John Cowie was among the dozen residents at the meeting and says businesses are leaving town and argued for cutting town services instead of raising taxes.
“The community is dying,” Cowie said. “You have to face that fact and if you don’t face that fact we’re going to be going through the same thing next year when the tax rate is going to be going up.”
Board Chairman John Duval says the town continues to provide excellent services, even while its operating costs have decreased within the current budget. Only 20 cents of the $1.70 residential tax rate jump comes from the town, which Duval says is made up of contractual and insurance increases. Town Administrator Jonathan Butler says the remaining $1.50 is a result of the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District budget and a bond for the renovation of Hoosac Valley High School. Responding to a plea from resident Jeffrey Lefebvre to cut services rather than increase taxes, Butler says in recent years the town has eliminated positions in the Police Department and Public Works and consolidated in other areas.
“There are two sides,” Butler said. “To be able to say our taxes are too high you’ve got to be willing to make some compromises. Then you have to actually stand behind them when they become real. When they affect people’s jobs, programs you utilize and programs your loved ones utilize. So understand there is a compassion and debate about these things every year, but if you’re going to be an advocate for lower taxes you’ve got to be compassionate on the other side as well."
“I’m not coming after the town,” answered Lefebvre.
Resident and former selectman George Haddad argues the town should further downsize because homeowners are struggling to make ends meet.
“There’s no shame in tightening your belt and maybe not having certain things,” Haddad said. “People have to feed their families. These tax rates are starting to put a major burden on a lot of people in town.”
Selectman Arthur “Skip” Harrington says changing the shift to lower the residential rate will further hurt businesses, which represent only 20 percent of the town’s property.
“You’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t,” Harrington said. “You try to find a balance. When you add $1.00 per $1,000 to your businesses it’s not a $200 hit, it’s maybe a $2,000 hit.”
Chairman Duval adds the tax rate is related to the town’s assessed property values, which are significantly lower than those in Pittsfield and Dalton. According to Town Assessor Donna MacDonald, last year’s reassessment dropped property values by nearly $30 million, causing the tax rate to rise in order to support the budget. Lefebvre says the town needs to revaluate its needs for next year’s budget.
“That’s the way I was hoping it would go,” Lefebvre said. “I would not want to see them reduce the shift, nor increase the shift. At next budget season, I would like to see them turn around and look harder because they’re putting too much of a burden, predominantly on the elderly people in this town.”