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North Adams Increases Tax Burden On Residential Side
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff
11:47PM / Tuesday, December 18, 2012
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The City Council set the tax rates on Tuesday night.

Mayor Richard Alcombright and City Councilor John Barrett III seldom agree and Tuesday was no different as Barrett opposed the mayor's tax rates.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Residents will be picking up a little bit more of the tax burden in a gesture to businesses to say they are wanted here.

The City Council approved lowering the tax differential from 1.75 to 1.71, which closes the gap between the commercial and residential tax rates.

Overall, rates to support to 2013 budget will increase from $14.82 per $1,000 of assessed value for residential properties to $15.31 and from $32.83 to $32.98 for commercial and industrial — an increase of $66 for the average single-family home.

If the city had stayed with the higher differential, the average single-family tax bill would have increased $37.

However, the shift did not come without lengthy debate as three councilors pleaded the case for helping residential owners. Councilors John Barrett III, Jennifer Breen and Marie Harpin all voted against the change in differential saying the move will not create jobs, that residents need additional tax help and that the move mostly benefits companies that don't need it.

"The middle class is going to take it on the chin again," Barrett said as he argued that the city's largest taxpayers — Verizon, Time Warner Cable and National Grid — are already implementing extra fees on the customers. "This is not what is good for business. What is good for business is a good educational system, a good workforce and making sure that our city has quality services."

Barrett said businesses hardly look at the tax rate when deciding where to locate and such a small shift wouldn't help them anyway. The city's most successful "job creators" have never complained about the split, he said.

On the other side of the coin, Councilor Lisa Blackmer said that while the rate itself is low on a prospective business's list, a business-friendly environment is important. She said a lower burden gives a sign to businesses that the city is welcoming them, which echoed Mayor Richard Alcombright's reasoning behind proposing the change.

"I fully believe in a split tax rate but we have an opportunity to send a message to businesses that we care," Alcombright said

Christine Hoyt of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce spoke in favor of the shift in differential.

The owner of an average home valued at $130,000 will see his or her bill rise $63.70 this year.

Councilor David Bond said he has spoken to small businesses and they have all said that neighboring towns have approached them trying to get them to relocate. While the shift isn't so dramatic that it will immediately create jobs, it could help keep what the city already has, he said.

"It is a gesture. It may not create jobs but it may help keep jobs here," he said.

Adams set its rates for 2013 at $18.25 for residential and $21.67 for commercial — more than $11 less than the city's rate. Williamstown has a single rate of $14.37 but much higher property values.

Breen, however, said new businesses are coming to the city and current businesses are doing well while the residents are struggling.

"I don't have a problem taxing someone like Walmart or any big box store ... I do have a problem raising taxes on those who can't afford it," Breen said.

According to Christine Hoyt of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, who spoke in favor of the shift, about 80 percent of the chamber members employ less than 10 people.

Councilor Nancy Bullett said small-business owners often live in the community and support their families through their businesses. Lessening the burden on commercial side would be a huge benefit, she said.

Overall, residential property values decreased by about $945,000 in the city while commercial property values have increased by about $1.4 million. The city's total assessed value was about $710 million and the budget calls for $13.6 million to be raised in taxes.

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