Editorial: Give growth a chance by putting split tax on hold

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Greenfield Town Council has twice voted on a split property tax rate, and twice the decision was cast into doubt by administrative confusion.

This should be taken as an omen, because shifting the tax burden onto the town’s businesses and industries is probably a bad decision and certainly one that’s being made without all the facts and figures in hand.

We understand the desire to save homeowners money. Shifting the tax burden onto nonresidential property owners is a great short-term benefit for homeowners, but at what expense to everyone else?

That’s the rub.

No one really knows what the cost will be down the road if the mom-and-pop businesses like the Garden Theater or small retailers on Main Street have to pay out more or pass the cost onto customers, driving them away.

Greenfield for many years struggled to expand its tax base under a reputation of being “anti-business.” Shifting the tax burden onto nonresidential property owners now will just resurrect that label at a time that merchants, property owners and entrepreneurs are trying to revitalize the downtown, turning it into a 21st-century commercial hub that features entertainment, retail and services.

Now that the town’s lawyer has cleared the administrative confusion over the two votes taken so far, Mayor William Martin still has time to veto the split rate. The latest Town Council vote would shift the tax burden from residential to all other classes of property — including commercial, industrial and personal — using a factor of 1 to 1.0808. That’s not as onerous at the original 1 to 1.5 ratio, but it’s still unwise.

The goal for years has been to attract job-creating industries and businesses. Conventional wisdom holds that the decision-makers at those prospective businesses are looking for low taxes, a skilled workforce, good schools, entertainment venues and recreational opportunities — in other words, a welcoming town with an vibrant downtown. Greenfield has much of that now, so let’s build on what’s here and not drive people away.

Higher taxes on businesses and industries doesn’t fit the growth model. It feels like throwing in the towel on growing the tax base. Taxing what’s here will only stunt growth. Taxing businesses could start a downward spiral, not an upward trajectory. We think that those on the council and in town hall who want Greenfield to prosper should give growth a chance.

The mayor should veto this idea. The council could then take the opportunity to either drop this idea altogether or at least invest time in studying the actual effects such a move will have. Do some math. Take the pulse of the town’s merchants, landlords and factory owners, who don’t just pay taxes, but provide jobs, services, and contribute to the community through their donations and volunteerism to organizations like the YMCA or United Way or little league.

Then, at least, a decision will be made based on facts, and not just a desire to help one group of taxpayers in the short term, when we might be hurting everyone in the long term.