Springfield City Councilors talk property tax relief
But Finance Committee makes no recommendation on use of free cash
City Councilors in Springfield, Massachusetts are expected to act before the end of the fiscal year on June 30th to assign surplus funds.
A special meeting of the City Council has been scheduled for Monday to take up proposals from the administration to transfer almost $10 million in free cash to reserve accounts where the money would be available for the city to use during the upcoming fiscal year.
The Council’s Finance Committee made no recommendations on the proposed transfers during a meeting Tuesday night. Councilor Tracye Whitfield, the chair of the committee, has been vocal about her desire to use the free cash to lower the property tax levy. However, it appears she lacks the support to do so from other members of the committee and a majority of the Council.
Making the case to put the $10 million into reserve accounts, Lindsay Hackett, the city’s deputy finance chief, pointed out that $6 million in free cash was used to lower the property tax levy in this fiscal year and next. Steps were taken this year to increase eligibility for homeowners to receive an abatement on their tax bill and the amount was doubled from $500 to $1,000.
“We do really want to be able address the need of the taxpayers, as we’ve heard from City Councilors, and we’ve tried to address it absolutely as best as we possibly could but we also have to maintain financial responsibility for the city,” Hackett said.
She cautioned the city cannot afford to give up too much property tax revenue and still maintain core services.
“The more we can maximize our tax base and the tax levy the more services we can provide and the more services we can continue if we do end up heading into recession,” Hackett said.
There’s been some talk by Councilors about creating an ad-hoc committee, or a working group, made up of Councilors and members of the City Hall finance team to focus on property taxes. Councilor Maria Perez said the city needs a strategy to stabilize tax bills.
“We have to discuss it,” Perez said.
Tax bills for the average single-family house in Springfield have increased for several years in a row and rose by $214 this year – roughly a 5 percent increase.
City Councilor Tim Allen, another member of the Finance Committee, said tax bills keep going up because annual budgets keep going up and spending cuts are hard to come by.
“It’s hard to come up with ideas that people want, it’s hard to get seven votes for those ideas, and the mayor is fighting for his budget. So, it is a hard process,” Allen said.
Earlier this month, the Council voted to approve without a single cut the budget proposed by Mayor Domenic Sarno that will increase spending in the next fiscal year by 3.5 percent.