Local businesses say ‘no’ to split tax rate

GREENFIELD — Mary Walsh-Martel said when she first heard about a split tax rate being proposed for Greenfield, she was against having a higher property tax rate for businesses than homeowners.

“Businesses have less of an impact on town services and they’re struggling,” said Walsh-Martel, owner of Magical Child on Main Street. “We want a healthy downtown and I didn’t think a split tax was the way to go.”

Walsh-Martel said she still isn’t thrilled about taking on more of the burden, but said she would “happily agree” to a split tax rate if it meant more of a police presence downtown, as well as other improvements.

“If there was more support for businesses, I’d gladly pay more,” she said.

Jeffrey Abrahamson, co-owner of Home Furnishing Company on Main Street, said he hopes Town Council votes “no” to the split tax rate proposed by At-large Town Councilor Mark Wisnewski.

“It’s not fair to local businesses,” said Abrahamson. “The town should be working to save small business. This isn’t going to do that.”

Abrahamson said increasing taxes on small business at this time would be a huge mistake.

“Some businesses are already hanging by a thread,” he said. “You’re going to have more empty storefronts if it passes.”

Other Greenfield business owners have voiced the same sentiment and the mayor and town’s assessor and financial director agree.

“You are searching for a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist,” said Van Wood, owner of Small Corp., at a recent Ways and Means Committee meeting.

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

A split tax rate would mean businesses would pay one rate and homeowners would pay another.

Murphy has estimated that it could save the average homeowner about $100 per year at the high end, but could cost businesses another $300 or more per year.

Joseph Ruggeri, who owns Ruggeri Real Estate, who owns three residential properties, and is on the town’s Board of Assessors, said the board is against a split tax rate and so is he.

He said the short-term benefits of shifting the burden from residents to businesses won’t benefit anyone in the long term.

“It won’t be a drastic benefit to residents, but it will be a drastic increase to businesses and building owners,” said Ruggeri.

He said the extra money businesses and building owners end up paying in taxes will also end up decreasing what they give in donations to the community.

“We need to maintain a strong business community,” he said.

Wisnewski has said he “just wants things to be fair,” but not everyone is in agreement.

The at-large councilor made a presentation on his proposal recently, but the town’s financial leaders have said Wisnewski’s figures are flawed and said they will make their own presentation to the council today.

“We want councilors to vote based on facts,” said Mayor William Martin. “We will present those on Thursday (today).”

George Gohl, co-owner of the Greenfield Garden Cinemas, said he is against a split tax rate.

“We have been putting all of our revenue back into the business by doing renovations,” he said. “We can’t afford to pay more taxes and do that.”

Gohl said the courthouse moving to Munson Street will cause enough of a hardship to downtown businesses, so there shouldn’t be an additional burden added.

Kevin O’Neil, owner of Wilson’s Department Store, said businesses in town have been struggling through a sluggish economy and shouldn’t have to endure even more difficult times.

“It would be discouraging to new businesses thinking about coming in,” he said. “I strongly urge you not vote a split tax rate. It’s going to be enough of a challenge when the courthouse moves from downtown for three to five years.”

The debate will continue when the full council meets at 7 p.m. today in the studio in Greenfield Community Television, 393 Main St.

The council will hold a public hearing and then discuss the matter before voting.

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