Councilors weigh in on split tax before Thursday vote

GREENFIELD — It was still unclear Tuesday whether the Town Council will vote to abandon a single tax rate in favor of a split tax that would put more of the burden on local businesses and save the average homeowners about $100 a year on their tax bills.

The split property tax rate was proposed by At-large Councilor Mark Wisnewski this year. Wisnewski said he proposed the change in an attempt “to be fair” to all. He said he didn’t propose a huge shift, because he didn’t want to push businesses over the edge.

Under Wisnewski’s proposal, town Assessor Audrey Murphy said, most businesses would see an increase of $300 or more on their tax bills.

In years past, the council would take up the issue around this time of year, hold a required public hearing, have a short discussion, and then vote no.

This year, the subject was brought up much earlier and Wisnewski made a formal presentation to councilors and the public.

One public hearing has already been held by the council’s Ways and Means Committee and another will be held before the council votes on Thursday night.

So far, there don’t appear to be many proponents of Wisnewski’s split tax rate.

“At the moment, I am leaning toward voting against it, unless I hear a really compelling argument for it on Thursday,” said At-large Councilor Mark Maloni, the newest member of the council. “This is based on my own assessment of all of the facts, as well as the many phone calls, emails and stops on the street by constituents.”

Maloni said people — residents and business owners — have gone out of their way to stop him and ask him to vote against a split tax rate.

Precinct 3 Councilor Brickett Allis said he will “definitely vote against it.”

“This proposal does not include a small business exemption, and I really don’t think a split tax rate is going to fix what is only a perceived problem,” said Allis. “As I’ve always been, I am against a split tax rate.”

Eleven of the town’s 12 town councilors will vote on the matter this week — the Precinct 8 seat is still vacant, so there is no 13th member at this point and President and Precinct 5 Councilor David Singer will not have to vote, because if all 11 vote, there won’t be a tie.

Mayor William Martin has already warned councilors that he will veto a vote in favor of a split tax rate.

If that happens, the council would have to vote again and then instead of a simple majority, it would take a two-thirds vote to pass.

Precinct 1 Councilor Marian Kelner and Precinct 2 Councilor Keith Zaltzberg both said they are still sifting through information given them by Wisnewski and the town. They said they will wait until after Thursday’s public hearing and discussion to make a final decision.

“I’m on the fence — I really don’t know,” said Zaltzberg. “I’m reading a lot from both sides.”

Precinct 9 Councilor Norman Hirschfeld said he is thinking about supporting a split tax rate, but said he is “up in the air” and is still looking over the data presented to councilors.

Singer said he has, is and will be encouraging his council to make a thoughtful decision based on all of the facts presented.

“I’m leaning toward voting against it,” said At-large Councilor Patrick Devlin. “I sort of agree with the mayor — we have a struggling downtown and don’t want to make it worse.”

Devlin said he is going through all of the documentation and arguments he has received and will vote based on what he believes is best for the town.

Several councilors did not return phone calls made to them on Monday and Tuesday: Precinct 4 Councilor Steven Ronhave, Precinct 7 Councilor Karen “Rudy” Renaud, and At-large Councilor Dalton Athey. Precinct 6 Councilor Hillary Hoffman could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Currently, the tax rate is $19.01 per $1,000 property valuation for everyone in town and Murphy estimates a single rate will be about $20.74 when the new rate is set before the end of the year.

Town Council will meet Thursday at 7 p.m. in the studio (third floor) in Greenfield Community Television, 393 Main St.

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