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Council pushes off tax rate question in hopes that free cash can reduce the burden to residents

Paula King.jpg

Chief City Assessor Paula King presented the city's proposed 2022 financial year tax rate to the City Council Tuesday night. King said that while rising property values were increasing residents' property tax bills, the biggest driver was the city's levy.

PITTSFIELD — The City Council hopes to see whether free cash — leftover unrestricted money for last year’s budget — could once again lower tax rates for residents after several city councilors said that Mayor Linda Tyer’s proposed rate for the current financial year would be too much for their residents to handle.

The council voted 6-3 Tuesday night to table Tyer’s proposal to set the residential tax rate at $18.56 per $1,000 in assessed value and the commercial tax rate at $39.90 per $1,000 until the council’s next meeting, in hopes that the city’s free cash will be certified in the meantime.

The Tyer administration had hoped to get council approval on the rates that would allow the city to levy almost $94.7 million in tax dollars and help support the city’s $189 million budget.

But the administration quickly saw opposition to that request from Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi, Ward 4 Councilor Chris Connell and Ward 5 Councilor Patrick Kavey, who said they’ve heard from many constituents that this bill would continue to price them out of the city.

Under the proposal the average single-family home — which increased in value from $203,901 to $222,073 in the last year — would see an increase of about $197 in annual property taxes.

The $197 increase represents about a 5 percent increase in the bill for the average single-family home — the most common property type in the city.

Kavey, Morandi and Connell were joined by future council members Charles Kronick and Karen Kalinowsky in calling for help for residents’s pocket books. The councilors said that inflation, rising gas and grocery prices and the economic challenges of the pandemic have eaten away at residents’ ability to take on more costs.

“I have residents that say they’re getting priced our and residents that on fixed incomes,” Kavey said. “I want to continue to see young professionals move in, continue to see young families move in but I also don’t want to price out the people who have lived here for 40 years.”

Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio asked Finance Director Matt Kerwood and Chief City Assessor Paula King to calculate what tax bills would look like for the average single family home in Pittsfield if the city used $1 million in free cash towards the city’s levy needs.

The council has used this move before, voting in late 2019 to allocate $1 million in free cash to reduce bill increases.

After a 15-minute recess in the council meeting for Kerwood and King to run the numbers, the council was told that if the city allocated $1 million in free cash toward the levy need then the average single-family home property bill would increase about $152 instead of $197 — an increase of 3.88 percent.

The annual tax bill for a single-family homeowner would still come in around $4,077.

For the median commercial property in the city — which has been valued at $190,650 — the tax bill would decrease about $40 over last year’s bill.

Kerwood estimated that the city has about $3.3 million in free cash. He advised against using that money to cover a portion of city taxes, saying he felt it would hurt the city in the long-run.

“We’re going to find ourselves in a cycle where as [property] values continue to rise and the [tax] rate continues to go down we’re going to see a series of increases,” Kerwood said. “I don’t think it’s appropriate to continue to subsidize that by throwing free cash at this when we get to the tax classification hearing process.”

Kerwood told the council that either way, they couldn’t vote to use the city’s free cash in this way until it’s been certified by the state’s Division of Labor Services. He told the council he had no idea when the certification might occur.

Meg Britton-Mehlisch can be reached at mbritton@berkshireeagle.com or


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