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Mayor says he will veto if council passes split tax rate

GREENFIELD — Mayor William Martin has warned the Town Council that he will veto if it decides to abandon the town’s single tax rate and vote on Thursday to approve a split tax rate instead.

The full council will gather to vote on the subject on Thursday at 7 p.m. in the studio at Greenfield Community Television. It will hold a public hearing before it takes the vote.

A split tax rate, which has been proposed by At-large Councilor Mark Wisnewski, would put more of a financial burden on local businesses, according to those opposed.

Wisnewski, who owns a business in Turners Falls, where there is a split tax rate, has said since summer that he “just wants things to be fair.”

Martin told councilors this past week that he feels setting a split tax rate is a bad move for the town.

The mayor suggested councilors travel Main and Federal streets to see why — lots of empty storefronts.

Martin said putting more burden on small business in Greenfield is not a good idea as the town tries to expand the tax base and attract more businesses there.

To pass a split tax rate, it will take a simple majority vote of the council — or seven “yes” votes.

To override the mayor’s veto, it would take a two-thirds vote, — or nine “yes” votes.

At a council Ways and Means Committee meeting a little over a week ago, local business owners pleaded with councilors to vote “no” to a split tax rate.

“You are searching for a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist,” said Van Wood, owner of Small Corp.

Currently the tax rate is $19.01 per thousand dollars property valuation for everyone in town and Assessor Audrey Murphy estimates it will be about $20.74 when the new rate is set before the end of the year.

A split tax rate would mean the average homeowner would save about $100 per year, but business owners could see tax bills go up $300 or more per year.

“It won’t be a drastic benefit to residents, but it will be a drastic increase to businesses and building owners,” said Joseph Ruggeri, who owns Ruggeri Real Estate, three residential properties, and who is on the town’s Board of Assessors. “We need to maintain a strong business community.”

George Gohl, co-owner of the Greenfield Garden Cinemas, said he is against a split tax rate. He said it will be an added hardship when the courthouse moves out of the downtown for three to five years.

“There are a lot of empty buildings downtown,” said local activist Penny Ricketts. “You aren’t going to attract businesses to fill them if you pass a split tax rate.”

Kevin O’Neil, owner of Wilson’s Department Store, said businesses have had to endure enough through a sluggish economy.

“It would be discouraging to new businesses thinking about coming in,” he said.

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