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My Turn: Playing with numbers

I read with interest the My Turn column by Greenfield town councilor Mark Wisnewski, in which he championed a split tax rate for Greenfield. His argument was that the property tax burden has unfairly shifted onto the residential taxpayer because residential assessment valuations have increased more rapidly than commercial and industrial valuations.

He stated: “Data clearly shows that the property tax bill for a resident will double just about every 10 years, but it will take almost 50 years for the property tax bill to double on business property.”

I own two properties in Greenfield, one a residence in which I live and the other an industrial building in which I work. My experience with the real estate taxes on my two properties did not comport with Mr. Wisnewski’s analysis. My residential property has increased in valuation 65 percent in the last 10 years whereas my industrial property has increased 75 percent.

Thinking that my experience must be different from Mr. Wisnewski’s, I checked the assessors’ very comprehensive and informative online database for the tax records on his house, and found the valuation had gone up only 48 percent from 2001 to 2011 and that his taxes had only gone up 33 percent in that period.

What is this doubling he’s talking about?

Assuming that the town councilors owned houses well distributed throughout Greenfield, I checked the tax records for all their houses, and found that in 10 years their valuations — had increased an average of 49 percent in 10 years. I then checked the valuations of six buildings in the Industrial Park that I was sure had had no substantial enlargements or improvements, and found they had increased an average of 55 percent in the same 10-year period.

I then thought that perhaps the problem lies with commercial properties rather than industrial ones, so I checked the records for several the found the following increases in valuation over the last 10 years: Wilson’s, 47 percent; Home Depot, 82 percent; Cohn and Co., 45 percent; Pella Products, 155 Main, 95 percent; 176 Main, 59 percent and many others in that range.

There were other commercial properties whose valuations had not increased as much, and they tended to be buildings that are not up to modern standards in one way or another. Buildings that have been kept up to date tended to have appreciated at least as fast as residential properties.

It seems to me that Mr. Wisnewski is searching for a solution to a problem that does not exist. There is no question that Greenfield has properties on its tax rolls, both residential and commercial/industrial, that are underperforming not only in terms of their contribution to tax revenue, but in terms of their contribution to the social fabric of the community.

But the answer to this is not to tax the commercial/industrial sector more heavily. The Town Council would do better to look for ways that it can promote and foster reinvestment in Greenfield’s real properties so that their values increase and they can continue to support the community as they should.

Any change in tax policy should be based on a careful and detailed analysis of the facts and not on myths and innuendo.

Van Wood is a Greenfield resident and president of SmallCorp.

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