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At-large council candidates talk taxation

GREENFIELD — The race is on for the one at-large Town Council seat up for election this year, and the two candidates have started their campaigns talking about taxation.

The challenger, former At-large Councilor Isaac Mass, said this week that he and his opponent, incumbent and Council President Mark Wisnewski, have very different views about the town adopting the Community Preservation Act — Mass does not think it should be adopted, while Wisnewski hopes it will.

The CPA is a state law passed in 2000 that enables adopting communities to create a local fund for open space preservation, historic resource preservation, development of affordable housing, and the acquisition and development of outdoor recreational facilities. Under the act, funds are raised through a voter-authorized annual surcharge of between 1 to 3 percent on a town’s property tax.

Mass said he is “adamantly opposed” to the adoption of such a residential property surtax. He said the first page of the town’s new Sustainable Master Plan, which Wisnewski worked on with 36 other town leaders and residents, calls for the town adopting the CPA.

“Many of the goals and objectives of the Sustainable Master Plan are admirable,” said Mass. “But, homeowners simply cannot afford another increase in an already regressive tax.”

Greenfield’s current tax rate is $20.53 per $1,000 of valuation, and Mass said that’s too high for many taxpayers.

Mass said that like Wisnewski, he was for the town approving a $24 million debt exclusion for construction of a new $66 million high school, but said taxation has to stop somewhere.

Mass said the value of Greenfield homes is on the low side, so the town should be looking at ways to increase the value of homeowners’ properties, not find more ways to increase what they pay.

“An extra tax will have the exact opposition effect,” he said.

In contrast, Wisnewski said adopting the CPA would help the town pay for some projects, possibly including a dog park, a skate park, or other outdoor projects, for example.

“It is not a Mark Wisnewski plan to adopt the CPA, it is one of the strategies in the town’s Sustainable Master Plan,” he said. “I can ask the council to put it on the ballot, which I will eventually do, but I can’t do any more than that. Once it’s on the ballot, it’s up to the voters. They’ll have to decide what’s best but at least they’ll have that choice.”

“I don’t like tax, but there are things we need to look at, including that the state will match funds for critical projects, if we adopt the act,” he said.

Split tax rate

While Mass points out that Wisnewski was a proponent of a split tax rate many times when he represented Precinct 5 several years ago, and was a chief proponent of a split tax rate in fiscal 2012 and 2013, Wisnewski said that after his most recent attempt was defeated, he would not bring it up to the council again.

“I have no plans or intentions of bringing it up again if I am re-elected,” said Wisnewski. He said that Mayor William Martin has done a good job of increasing the town’s revenues without putting more burden on its businesses.

Mass said he, on the other hand, has always supported a single tax rate.

“The best way to increase revenue from commercial property owners is to increase their valuations by fostering a positive business climate,” said Mass.

And while Mass described Wisnewski’s proposal for the mayor to give the Greenfield Business Association $10,000 a year to help market the town “a transparent attempt to reach out to the very businesses he has already alienated with his tax policy,” Wisnewski said he has worked closely with the GBA to promote local business and acted as the Town Council representative on the GBA board for four years.

“I feel that giving the GBA that money to help us market Greenfield would be a smart and cost-effective move in terms of economic development,” he said.

Mass said he was surprised to see Wisnewski so interested in economic development.

“He led the charge a few years ago to get rid of the town’s economic development director position,” said Mass.

Wisnewski said he is still not convinced that the town should be paying a full-time salary to someone to market the town.

“I still haven’t seen that happen,” said Wisnewski. “I think working with the GBA would be a much more cost-effective way. We could do it through the GBA’s website and it could help us develop a marketing plan.”

Senior Work-Off Program

Mass, who supports Greenfield’s plan to give targeted relief to skilled senior citizens who are able to provide service to the town through the adoption of a senior work-off program, had thought Wisnewski had not yet weighed in on such a matter.

He said he supports the program that allows eligible seniors on fixed incomes to work off up to $1,000 of their property taxes by volunteering for the town or its schools.

What Mass didn’t realize is that the council voted unanimously earlier this year to pass such a program.

Wisnewski said he was not at that meeting and did not vote, but wrote a letter of support, saying that veterans and seniors deserve relief.

“Mr. Mass says he doesn’t want any new taxes, but he supported the override (for the renovated high school), which is going to cost taxpayers beginning next year,” said Wisnewski. “I just don’t believe you should pick and choose when it’s fine to raise taxes and when it’s not.”

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