Ruth Bass: Wish list: A fat tax incentive for a new porch


RICHMOND >> Tax incentives keep popping up in the news. A tax incentive would be such a nice thing. I'd like one so I could build my porch, the house appendage I've dreamed about for years and never been able to justify. Getting a chance to do it would, arguably, enhance my quality of life, something constantly advocated for any community's senior citizens.

It would have floor to roof screens inside a painted, wood-spindled rail. It would have an outside entrance to a three-season garden of flowers and a door from the house for easy access in good weather and to get at firewood that could be handily stored there in the winter.

It would be environmentally sound — a cool place to read on a hot, mosquito-laden summer evening, thus lowering the need for fuel-consuming air-conditioning and perhaps easing the need for town-financed bug spraying. In winter, it could be one more buffer between the wind and the house, perhaps cutting a miniscule slice off the fuel consumption graph.

It would increase the value of the property, so the folks who re-evaluate would have a moment of glee, thinking about future tax benefits. I could cut down my investment while my taxes were on vacation.

I would still expect to have the fire department come when my carbon monoxide alarm went off (which it did and they did, not long ago), and the road crew to plow snow and fix crumbled edges of the road with new culverts (which they do and did). I'd want the ambulance to come (which it faithfully has) and the school to function and the community nurse to take blood pressure readings for free, and the conservation bunch to keep track of streams and wetlands. A government subsidy of my porch would surely not affect the reasonable budget the town presents at the annual meeting or move the tax collector to do one of the statistical rundowns he does so well.

Ah, but what if my neighbors object? What if they say my tax benefit is their tax increase? The town's budget would likely not drop because part of my part wasn't there, so the income need would be the same. They'd pay a few extra bucks to make up for what I was not going to do — for five years or ten. Then comes the remote possibility that they might not protest my porch but decide, instead, to build porches, too. Based on the precedent set for me, they'd be in line to argue their cases, 25 or more porches with tax incentives, nobody paying on them for years to come.

Perhaps tax incentives are the best thing, as people like to say with cliché, since sliced bread. But they're tough on small towns, where property tax revenues are what keep the wheels turning, day after day. Small town officials keep expenditures reined in so they won't face an angry meeting where voters don't want to pass the school budget, buy a new snowplowing truck, improve the water system or add on to the town garage.

So town budgets tend to stay on an even keel, year to year, ordinarily with single digit increases. From the other side of the mountain, it's hard to know what Lenox should do about tax incentives for a new hotel, or what all the pluses and minuses might be. But it's worrying to see that one request has already led to a second from a new developer. Will a line form to the right? The very nature of Lenox — its charm and its culture — has made it a lure for lodging places and restaurants — and a tourist destination. Perhaps that should be enough.

Ruth Bass is a former Sunday editor of The Berkshire Eagle. Her web site is


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