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Pittsfield Tax Rates Increase, More Burden on Residential Property Owners

Jim Levulis

Residential and commercial property owners in Pittsfield, Massachusetts will see their taxes increase come next year.

The city council approved a rate shift that, compared to 2013, puts more burden on residential property owners in order to raise the $70.3 million needed in taxes to support the 2014 fiscal budget approved in June. The average resident will see his or her annual bill increase by $83 while the average business owner’s contribution to the city will jump $289. The council’s 8 to 3 vote increases the residential rate by 2.8 percent and the commercial rate by 1.65 percent. Dan Colello voiced his displeasure with the decision to increase the burden on the city’s residents.

“There’s no debate going on, on how to find and cut costs,” Colello said. “If you justify to me that you tried everything you could and you reduced all your spending the best you could and you still got to raise my taxes, I can accept that as an adult.”

Overall, the city’s levy from taxpayers increased 2.59 percent from fiscal 2013, an amount equally $1.78 million. To raise that money, Mayor Dan Bianchi proposed a lesser burden on the residents than what was approved, with a shift of 1.682 towards the commercial side. Instead, the council approved an amendment by a 6-5 vote from Councilor Barry Clairmont of a shift of 1.672. Jeffrey Cook serves on the board of directors for the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce. He says the city needs to make itself more conducive for businesses to come and stay in Pittsfield, a city that currently has the eighth highest commercial tax rate in the state.

“I see some progress but I’ve really been trying to get the city council to understand that right now we have national companies that have choices and they make their choices out of Berkshire County because energy cost twice what it costs in the Southeast and we have these tax burdens that they just simply can’t understand,” said Cook.

Mayor Bianchi adds the city’s assessed value of commercial properties is among the lowest in the state, which keeps business owners’ taxes down compared to the rest of the commonwealth. Council Kevin Morandi voted against the approved rate split. He agrees the city needs to attract more businesses, but keep its residents in mind.

"I have to do what I feel is best for the city and to keep our residents in their homes,” Morandi said. “Tonight, there was some talk about we are making a shift and it’s only going to be a little more on the residential property owners. However, it’s just not about tonight. It’s about the water and sewer rates going up. It’s about the cost of living going up. We have an elderly population in Pittsfield and those seniors have such a hard time to try to make ends meet.”

Councilor John Krol voted in favor of the approved rate after his proposal of an even more drastic shift toward the residential side was shot down. He says Pittsfield has to be more business-friendly because city residents need to have jobs in order to pay their taxes. Residential owners contribute 64 percent of the tax levy raised, which has remained about the same for the past five years. Many of the councilors also admitted they need to do a better job of looking at how the city can cut costs and be more efficient when combing over the budget in June. Meanwhile, Councilor Clairmont filed a petition to have the Finance Committee hire an accountant to conduct an annual audit of the city’s books. The council referred the petition to the Subcommittee on Ordinances and Rules.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org