Greenfield Town Council sustains mayor’s veto of split tax rate

  • The Greenfield Town Hall Recorder File Photo/Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Thursday, December 28, 2017

GREENFIELD — Commercial and residential property owners will pay the same tax rate for Fiscal Year 2018.

Town Council voted 6-4 during a special meeting Thursday night to sustain Mayor William Martin’s veto of its Nov. 29 vote to split the tax rate, which would have shifted the tax burden from residential to commercial property owners using a factor of 1.0808.

Eight votes of the council were needed to override the veto.

“I really would like us to consider supporting the mayor’s veto. I feel like when the day comes that we really go with a split tax rate, that we know what we’re doing form the start, we really are thinking about it and we have a full discussion,” said At-Large Councilor Penny Ricketts, who voted to keep the mayor’s veto in place.

Martin urged the council to vote for an equal 1:1 tax rate classification in a memo, saying a split tax rate would hurt business growth and expansion by depressing economic development. He added that the shift would only result in a $9 monthly average savings for residential property owners.

“The shift will trickle down to the renter with rental increases and (will) create another obstacle to success for small business, start-ups and entrepreneurs,” Martin wrote.

After failing to override the mayor’s veto, the council voted unanimously to set an equal tax rate during Thursday’s meeting.

Several councilors who voted for the split rate in November changed their positions.

At-Large Councilor Mark Maloni said although he was originally in favor of a split rate, he didn’t feel comfortable doubling down on his vote.

“It just didn’t sit well with me,” he said.

Precinct 1 Councilor Verne Sund also voted in favor of the split rate last month, but said he’s since changed his mind because his wife hopes to open a business in Greenfield.

“It’s enough for her right now to try and open a business because she’s having a hard time with what is happening in town as far as taxes go and rent goes,” he said.

Sund later called The Recorder to clarify his comments, saying he misspoke and meant to use his wife as an example of the challenges potential business owners could face with a split tax rate.

Council Vice President Isaac Mass, who originally proposed the split rate, stood behind his Nov. 29 vote, voting to override the mayor’s veto. He said the split rate would not provide any major relief for residents, but would prevent their taxes from increasing. Mass said adopting a split tax rate is his least favorite option for reducing the tax burden on residents, saying he would rather expand Greenfield’s tax base and cut town spending.

“I’m going to vote for it, if nothing else, because it’s symbolism that we need to cut spending in Greenfield and expand the tax base, that this is not sustainable,” Mass said of the override.

He also pointed out that although some business owners threatened to leave Greenfield if the council overrode the mayor’s veto, Greenfield has been losing businesses to Montague, which has a split tax rate.

At-large Councilor Karen “Rudy” Renaud also stuck with her original vote in favor of the split rate, saying the one thing that’s for certain is that a split rate would prevent residential taxes from increasing. Threats of businesses moving out of town, Renaud said, are hypothetical.

“The one definite that is undisputed is if we pass this, it’s going to save residential property owners money, so I’m going to put the hypotheticals aside,” she said.

Councilors who voted in favor of the override were Precinct 2 Councilor John Lobik; Precinct 4 Councilor Wanda Muzyka-Pyfrom; Mass; and Renaud.

Those who voted against the override were Sund; Precinct 5 Councilor Robert Wainstein; Precinct 6 Councilor Maria Burge; Precinct 7 Councilor William Childs; Ricketts; and Maloni.

Precinct 9 Councilor Daniel Leonovich was absent.

After the vote, councilors agreed that the group needs to have a serious discussion about Greenfield’s tax rate and town spending prior to next year’s vote.

Mass said he’s seen town government grow considerably in the last 15 years, saying that certain departments, including health, recreation and schools, could be trimmed.

“I can tell you there is fat to be cut,” he said.

Ricketts agreed, saying she believes it’s a good idea to take a close look at town departments.

“I think it should be part of the discussions that we have and we don’t wait at all, jump into it in January and let’s put together questions,” she said. “I would love to have all next year (to) really get ahead of everything, because we know some things are coming, and let’s start to piece together what we think and get our demands in early, and let’s do it publicly.”