PITTSFIELD — A special City Council meeting on Tuesday ended weeks of stalemate, sealing the deal on a tax hike for Pittsfield property holders.
The residential rate will rise from $19.42 to $19.71 per $1,000 of assessed property value, or about $29 more a year for a home valued at $100,000. Commercial rates will rise from $39.94 to $40.36 per $1,000 of assessed value, or about $42 more a year per $100,000 of property value.
To offset the tax rate increases, councilors decided to spend $1 million from its free cash fund — a move that put them at odds with Mayor Linda Tyer, who had proposed using only $500,000 in free cash toward that end. Councilors overwhelmingly favored spending more from the reserve account in order to offer lower rates, while Tyer stressed the importance of building up the city's reserves.
Councilor at Large Pete White cast the sole dissenting vote on the free cash appropriation. On the vote that set the rates, Ward 7 Councilor Tony Simonelli cast the sole dissenting vote.
In previous meetings, councilors stressed the importance of mitigating rising property values that caused tax bills to rise. Accounting for the 4 percent increase in property values this year, the average city home — now valued at $194,288, versus last year's $186,600 — will see an annual tax bill that is about $206 higher than last year's, or an increase of about 5.7 percent.
The median commercial property's assessed value only increased by about $500 to $189,500, shaking out to a tax bill increase of about $100 more over last year.
The amount that the city is raising through property taxes this year increased from $86.4 million last year to $89.8 million, an increase of about $3.4 million, or about 4 percent.
Meantime, the city grows ever closer to bumping up against its levy capacity, according to documents provided by Tyer's administration, meaning the buffer between the city's annual expenses and the total amount it can raise through taxes continues to dwindle.
Before applying the shift factor that adjusts the residential versus commercial rates, the city's newly approved single tax rate is $24.37 per $1,000 of assessed value. Per state law, that rate cannot exceed $25, said Paula King, the city's assessor.
Had the mayor and City Council not infused free cash into that equation, King said the city's single tax rate would have been $24.85, a rate she described as "extremely close" to the legal maximum.
The buffer between the amount the city needs to raise this year and the amount it can legally raise is important, she said, because it allows the city wiggle room in the event of a fiscal crisis. Until it builds its tax base, the city is one of several municipalities in the commonwealth that cannot legally institute a tax override in order to increase its tax capacity in the event of an emergency, King told councilors. Based on previous years' figures, she said the city joins Holyoke, Springfield, West Springfield, Wendell, Heath and Somerset in that dubious status.
But things are on the up and up, King told councilors, pointing to $44,339,239 in new growth, or about $1.6 million in new tax revenue. That new growth includes $10.5 million in residential growth, $2.3 million in commercial, $31 million in personal property growth, and $553,233 in industrial growth.
Amanda Drane can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.