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Pittsfield holds first city council meeting of 2023, hears citizen concerns about property taxes

A stone building with a colonnade.
Josh Landes

The Pittsfield, Massachusetts city council held its first meeting of 2023 Tuesday.

Absent from the meeting were Mayor Linda Tyer, Ward 3 City Councilor Kevin Sherman, Ward 5 City Councilor Patrick Kavey, and Ward 7 City Councilor Anthony Maffuccio, his fourth consecutive absence from the bimonthly meetings.

During the open mic portion of the meeting, resident Ann Carey expressed frustration with the property tax increase the council approved in November.

“My home was built in ’86,” she said. “It's a small humble ranch house on a humble street. I have the same windows, the same kitchen, the same everything that was built in ‘86. Even my kitchen stove is over 40 years old. I'm retired. I have a very limited fixed income. I can hardly maintain my house. I do all my own shoveling, my own lawn. I do everything myself. The taxes were shocking. My last quarterly payment was around $600 and some change. Now it's over $900. That’s a 50% increase. My house valuation went up 39% in the last few years. Things are falling apart because I can't maintain it, I can't afford it. So, I don't know why my house is going up in value. If this keeps up, I'm going to be one of the statistics of one of the senior citizens that can't afford to live in their own house that they built because of the taxes. Makes me angry.”

Another retiree, Helen Austin, raised similar complaints about rising property taxes to the council and suggested she should just send her Social Security payments directly to the city. According to Chief Assessor Laura Catalano, Pittsfield’s total personal property value increased by $13 million in fiscal year 2023.

During discussion of an order from Tyer on accepting a deed in lieu of foreclosure for three properties on Robbins Avenue, Ward 2 City Councilor Charles Kronick asked Finance Director Matt Kerwood if Pittsfield had attempted to offer any help to the homeowner who fell behind on payments for at least five years.

“So, there was no counseling?” asked Kronick. “They were not referred to counseling, financial counseling?”

“Not by the city,” answered Kerwood.

“And you did not suggest or attempt to make contact with them in order to establish a plan before he fell into $120,000 of debt, it sounds like,” continued Kronick. “Does that sound accurate?”

“I can tell you that my office had no outreach with him,” responded Kerwood.”

“Because I have, you know, I’m concerned about that, from what you're saying,” said Kronick. “I actually would have thought that there would have been some outreach made. Because when someone gets into $120,000 bank debt, either they're really a delinquent person, or they're having a lot of problems and they're just not on top of their stuff, so to speak. And I also wonder whether there was any COVID impact on this person's debt from 2020 on – maybe, maybe not – that made him unable to make payments. We don't know that. I'm just very, not happy with that situation, I’ll just put that way.”

According to the city, two of the three parcels are vacant and one has a home in disrepair. Owner Sylvester Eason chose to forfeit the land to end the foreclosure proceedings already underway in Land Court. The city plans to demolish the home and partner with Habitat for Humanity to redevelop the properties into two new affordable housing units.

Kronick was the sole vote against the order.

The Ward 2 representative was later at the center of a contentious debate over an unsuccessful petition he brought before the body attempting to block any plans for new investments in the city’s Department of Public Utilities. Kronick claimed that after a botched response to the snowstorm that flummoxed drivers and left roads slippery and unplowed over Christmas weekend, he wanted to preemptively block any new taxes related to storm response. It proved unpopular with his peers, leading the councilor to hotly defend himself.

“I wrote my petition saying, no, you do not want to be buying new stuff," said Kronick. "People don't want it. I'm going to read to you again another excerpt, that line from the guy who works in the MassDOT. He says that we would have, if you pretreated those roads with rock salt that day, we would have had safer roads, no complaints, and no higher taxes for equipment that we do not need. Now, Councilor Warren and White, for example, you heard those people on this floor. It's not about politics. It's about they can't live in their bloody houses. I'm not running for office. It’s not, I don't have a political posture. You guys are running for office. You're at-large, and you're running for mayor. I am not, it's not- Don't call me for political posturing. It’s ridiculous. What a load of crap.”

Council President and at-large councilor Peter Marchetti has announced plans to run in this year’s mayoral race. After the meeting, Kronick was noncommittal when asked by WAMC about his own plans to seek a second term this year.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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