NORTH ADAMS — Councilor Keith Bona introduced a proposal Tuesday that would provide incentives for new property owners who renovate their homes, but the program may not be legal under Massachusetts law.
Bona, in a plan announced at a City Council meeting, envisions freezing the assessed value of a home as the owner makes improvements to it. For example, a home that is assessed at $50,000 and received $25,000 of improvements would remain assessed at $50,000 for a certain length of time, providing the homeowner with a small tax benefit.
The details of the proposal have yet to be worked out; the council voted to refer the plan to its Community Development subcommittee.
"What I envision is similar to how we've given tax incentives to commercial businesses doing substantial amount of renovations and expansions," Bona wrote in a letter to the council outlining his proposal.
But Councilor Lisa Blackmer doubted the city's legal ability to institute such a policy, noting that in Massachusetts only the state government can sign off on tax breaks or abatements.
"I think that it's something that wouldn't pass," Blackmer said.
After consulting the city assessor, the state division of local services, and the state Department of Revenue, Blackmer questioned the feasibility of the proposal. While Bona submitted examples of similar incentives in other towns and cities, none were in Massachusetts, according to Blackmer, who noted that the program would likely require the city submit a home rule petition to the state.
Councilor Kate Merrigan suggested that, even if a tax incentive can't be instituted, "maybe there's an opportunity for a larger conversation" about encouraging home ownership and revitalization.
Under his proposal the city would not be losing tax revenue by instituting the incentive, Bona notes, because the assessment would remain at its original level. The assessed value would increase in steps over the course of several years until it reaches the actual, full amount.
Bona also argues that the improvements made to one home could increase the value of those around it.
Among the many variables Bona hopes to explore are how much money would have to be invested in the property to qualify; whether the program should be limited to certain properties or areas of the city; whether the program should be limited to first-time homebuyers, single family homes, or owner-occupied homes; and what burden such a proposal would place on city departments.
Mayor Richard Alcombright, who did not attend Tuesday's meeting because of an illness, told The Eagle on Tuesday that he was looking forward to discussing the topic further and commended Bona for raising it.
"It's a worthwhile discussion, where it goes certainly needs to be further investigated," Alcombright said. "If we can legally provide certain incentives to help people, then we will try to do that."
In his letter to the council, Bona wrote that he had been mulling over such a proposal for several months and decided to introduce it now, given recent discussion about a possible special tax agreement for the developers of the Greylock Mill on State Road.