There are no good answers when it comes to deciding if tax increases should be applied to residents or businesses in Pittsfield. The City Council decided Tuesday night to shift more of the burden to residents because of the debatable perception that the city is unfriendly to business. A better argument, which was made by Councilor Barry Clairmont, is that if residents want businesses to thrive and provide jobs, they need to help them.
The Council's 10-1 vote would mean that the owner of an average home assessed at $177,000 would see an increase of $104 in the annual property tax bill, which is $39 higher than the increase proposed by Mayor Daniel Bianchi and the Board of Assessors. The vote came after several city business owners spoke before the council in favor of a break on their taxes, which they will receive in comparison to the proposal made by city officials.
There is no doubting that these are difficult times for businesses, but there is no sign of an exodus from Pittsfield to neighboring towns which, as many of Tuesday night's speakers observed, have lower tax rates. As the mayor pointed out in response, tax rates shouldn't be compared unless property valuations are included as well. Without this factored in, it's apples and oranges. Pittsfield also provides services many towns do not. Like any city, it has financial obligations that must be met, and Pittsfield is no more or less business friendly than any northeastern city struggling with these realities.
We don't see where the mayor could have cut the budget to avoid a tax hike, although the recent pay raise granted teachers comes at a time when most residents' wages are likely stagnant if not in decline. Councilor Melissa Mazzeo's suggestion that the tax status of nonprofits be looked at may generate hysteria, but it's a worthy idea. While most nonprofits will justify their status the city cannot afford to ignore possible revenue sources.
Businesses in Pittsfield received a break, and homeowners can console themselves with the hope that it will benefit the city as a whole. Ideally, the tax base goes up and everybody's taxes go down, but there are factors both national and global well beyond Pittsfield's control that continue to prevent that ideal from being achieved.