Charlemont OKs state’s first recreation tax

Legislature must approve measure

  • A raft from Zoar Outdoor navigates Zoar Gap in Charlemont. Recorder file photo

Recorder Staff
Published: 6/9/2016 10:57:57 PM

CHARLEMONT — If the state Legislature backs it, Charlemont will become the first community in Massachusetts to levy a 3 percent recreation tax on ski lifts, seasonal passes, commercial rafting trips and canopy tours.

Voters who attended the third night of  annual town meeting unanimously approved the “home-rule” proposal, after hearing that the town’s largest, commercial outdoor recreation centers — Zoar Outdoor, Berkshire East and Crab Apple Rafting — have backed the plan.

Selectman Toby Gould said the three companies have written letters of support for the town’s plan of adding a tax as a way to help pay for town services, such as the ambulance, that may be needed by recreational visitors as well as by residents. These letters will be submitted to state legislators, along with the town vote on the article. Gould said Vermont, Minnesota and Utah already have recreation taxes to help small “host” towns generate revenues needed for services like ambulance, fire protection and river patrols in regions that draw many visitors.

“One reason we’re here for the third night is it’s very hard for a town of 1,000 people to pay its bills,” Gould remarked. He said the recreation tax is one way to raise money that would have a minimal impact on residents and a greater impact on those who use the town’s resources but don’t live in town. He said state Rep. Paul Mark and Sen. Benjamin Downing encouraged the board to draft a home-rule bill, since the state doesn’t have a recreation tax.

“We think this could be a sustainable, ongoing new source of revenue,” he said.

Some residents expressed concerns that the recreation tax might drive the outdoor recreation businesses out of town, while others thought the recreation tax should be more than 3 percent.

Gould said the rate was set at 3 percent after selectmen discussed the tax with the outdoor recreation companies and with local legislators. “The legislators said: Not less than 3 percent and not more than 3 percent,” Gould added.

The money would be collected the same as the state sales tax, and the state Department of Revenue would be forwarding the money to the town on a quarterly basis.

In another effort to boost town revenues, voters unanimously agreed to adopt state legislation that allows the town to impose a 0.75 percent local meals tax from the sale of restaurant meals. This tax also applies to beverages consumed with meals at restaurants, but does not apply to package store sales. The state already charges a 6.25 percent meals tax for meals eaten in restaurants, and the local tax would boost it to 7 percent, said Gould. For every $100 spent on restaurant meals in town, Charlemont would get 75 cents.

“It seems a lot of revenue to restaurants comes from people from outside of Charlemont,” Gould said. “We don’t think it’s going to make a tremendous impact on town revenue, but it was something we could do to raise revenues.”

An article proposing an excise tax exemption for residents who are in active duty military service was voted down, after residents learned there is currently no one living in town the exemption would apply to. Also, this state legislation makes up for the tax loss by raising the late fee for excise taxes by $3. A resident argued that people already having a hard time paying their bills should not be penalized with a heavier fine.

Other articles approved were:

Zoning bylaw changes for the village center, intended to streamline and shorten the permitting process for construction of residential solar installations. It also clarifies uses in the village center that can be approved through a simpler site plan review process.

A capital planning bylaw that creates a five-member Capital Planning Committee to inventory the town’s capital assets, reviews capital expenditure requests and recommends expenditures in yearly budgets. The purpose is to prevent the town from being “blind-sided” by a need to pay for many capital repairs or purchases all at once.

Changing the tree warden’s term from annual to three years, so that the tree warden is no longer required to run for re-election every year.

Changing the date of the annual election to take place a week after annual town meeting. This will let the poll workers participate in the annual town meeting instead of tabulating election results while the town meeting goes on.


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