Greenfield city councilors begin discussion on possible split tax rate

Staff Writer
Published: 1/19/2022 3:36:52 PM
Modified: 1/19/2022 3:35:48 PM

GREENFIELD — City councilors began a discussion Tuesday night on the possibility of Greenfield moving to a split property tax rate in fiscal year 2023.

“We had an 11th hour debate, as always … when it comes to setting tax rates,” said At-Large Councilor Christine Forgey at a Ways and Means Committee meeting. “It was suggested to us this be something we deal with throughout the whole year as we get closer to November ... when we have to set the tax rate.”

Included at Tuesday night’s subcommittee meeting were members of the Board of Assessors, who were there to answer questions posed by city councilors.

Precinct 3 Councilor Virginia “Ginny” DeSorgher said that to her knowledge there were 108 municipalities in Massachusetts with a split tax rate last fiscal year, with even more this fiscal year.

“I personally think the subject has come up here because of the tax burden that homeowners pay,” she said, adding that when tax bills went out at the end of last year, she received a number of calls from constituents across the city whose valuations had gone up, and thus, their tax bills.

DeSorgher asked the Board of Assessors how its office determines how values increase.

In general, board members explained the formula includes factors such as the square footage of a house, acreage, how many bedrooms it has, as well as the housing market or condition of the house, for example.

Joe Ruggeri, chair of the Board of Assessors, noted some increases were higher than others. In particular, he said, single-family homes went up, largely due to the housing market.

“Folks are buying houses in Greenfield,” he said. “They’re paying more than the market value. When one or two houses come up on the market, there’s 10 buyers.”

In terms of commercial property value, board member Jim Geisman said three methods are used: income, fair market and a combination of the two.

According to Ruggeri, who clarified the role of the Board of Assessors is to oversee the operations of the assessor’s office, said Greenfield has not had a split tax rate during the 10 years he has been on the board, nor does he recall one in the years prior to that.

Precinct 4 Councilor John Bottomley said his understanding is the public gets frustrated when they see huge increases in property values or systematic increases every year — some of which is expected — but they don’t see those increases in business property values.

“I’m not placing any blame, but it creates a lot of frustration,” he said, noting the determinations may be justified. “We’ve been told we can’t compare apples and oranges, and it feels like our way of comparing them might be a split tax rate. … That may be totally incorrect, but I wanted to see what your thoughts might be on that.”

In response, Ruggeri compared the real estate market of residential property compared to commercial buildings, the latter of which is in significantly less demand.

“I understand where folks are coming from, but the residential properties are in demand where the commercial properties are not,” Ruggeri said. “It’s not all about comparisons. … They’re is the income approach, so it’s a combined effort.”

Precinct 1 Councilor Ed Jarvis said he wants residents to realize that while councilors hear about taxes going up, they also hear concerns there are no stores downtown.

“The mom-and-pop (shops) — they’re leasing a spot; they’re not owning the building,” he said. “So the landlord is going to say, ‘My taxes went up, so your lease is going up next year.’ … That’s the reality of a split tax and how it’s going to affect our small storefront owners down on Main Street in Greenfield.”

Jarvis asked if other municipalities have a system for taxing bigger corporations, for example, at a split tax rate so it doesn’t affect small businesses as much.

Liz Gilman, retired finance director who still works for the city on a per-diem basis, said Jarvis had “hit the starting point” for the conversation. Questions such as what the city’s commercial property is composed of or what is its percentage of commercial property should be explored.

“That’s your starting point of analysis if you want to start the conversation,” Gilman said. “Let’s look at our businesses we do have, and analyze them.”

Forgey agreed with Gilman and told councilors the discussion of split tax rates would be on the subcommittee’s agenda for the next 11 months.

“I do think that what Liz posed to us is an excellent place to begin, but I also heard the following pieces, which seem to be extremely important to the conversation,” Forgey said.

Those items, she said, included considering the issue of landlords versus businesses, the conditions of buildings and the quantitative opinion of “how to place everything into a system.”

“I think this was a good first step and it was a good conversation,” Forgey said. “And I’m looking forward to many more.”

The next meeting of the Ways and Means Committee is Tuesday, Feb. 15, at 5:30 p.m.

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne


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