Tax rates to drop amid strides to straighten out Pittsfield's financial outlook

The former Pittsfield Plaza, which was previously empty, is now being used by U-Haul and for storage. U-Haul's use of a previously blighted space on East Housatonic Street is one example touted by Pittsfield mayor Linda Tyer as "a pretty remarkable turnaround" that has allowed the city to drop property tax rates for the first time since 1993.

PITTSFIELD — Residential tax bills haven't gone down in Pittsfield since 1993, Mayor Linda Tyer said Wednesday, but that's about to change.

Though the savings will be modest — $9.48 annually for the average home valued at $186,600, and $367 annually for a commercial property valued at $189,000 — Tyer said the drop signifies "a pretty remarkable turnaround."

If approved by the City Council on Tuesday, the residential tax rate would go down from $20.01 to $19.42, and the commercial tax rate would drop from from $39.98 to $39.94.

Tyer said her administration inherited a decade's worth of declining property values "and there was no plan to address these trends." Since then, her team attacked the issue flagging revenue on many fronts, from acquiring more grants to renegotiating longer-term contracts with city employees.

Now, officials said Wednesday, property values are up and new growth is on the rise. City assessor Paula King said the city has seen some $51 million in new construction growth over the last year, equating to $1.9 million in tax revenue. Revenue-boosting projects include renovations at the U-Haul complex on West Housatonic Street, upgrades to the building Berkshire Roots occupies on Dalton Avenue and the newly renovated Proprietor's Lodge at the old ITAM property.

Between the new growth and some sound financial planning, Tyer said, her administration decided the city has built up enough, about $11 million in reserves, to give some back to the taxpayers.

Tyer said her team has worked toward three-year collective bargaining contracts, which she said offer the city more stability in terms of budget planning. She and Finance Director Matt Kerwood said it was a big deal, too, that they were able to save $1.5 million on renegotiated contracts with the Pittsfield Employee Committee.

"The strategy was to control costs while building these conservative budgets," Tyer said.

Meantime, Tyer said, she was able to help Police Chief Michael Wynn boost ranks at the department from 70 to 88 sworn officers, support a new consolidated therapeutic program in the city's school system and pave 11 miles of roadway.

"And still we're able to offer a lower tax rate," she said.

Tyer said she hopes the rate decrease provides some relief to residents and businesses.

There's more work to do, she said, but "we all rolled up our sleeves and that's what brings us to today's good news."

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.