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Our Opinion

Our Opinion: In Stockbridge, divisive residential tax exemption issue is resolved in unity

With the Select Board’s declaration that the residential tax exemption is “off the table,” a heated issue for the Stockbridge community has been put on ice.

The debate over this proposed tax plan, which would have shifted more of the real estate tax burden to seasonal property owners and reduced it for most full-time residents, clearly had the potential to heap division on this small, tight-knit town. How it wound up playing out at a recent Select Board meeting, however, suggests that it was a victory for unity won by the forces of civil democratic expression.

Attendance was strong at that meeting, where the tax proposal was taken off the table. About 20 people showed up, while twice as many joined via Zoom. Select Board Chairman Patrick White, who was the most prominent cheerleader for the residential exemption plan, struck an understanding tone in recognizing what was essentially the defeat of his own proposal.

“We’ve got a whole lot of people to tell me what an idiotic idea I had. That’s OK,” Mr. White said at Thursday’s meeting.

While the self-effacing humor helped to lighten up a subject that stirred passionate response, the key takeaway here is a municipal leader welcoming and accepting thoughtful criticism from his constituents — even if it’s strong, as it certainly was from many corners in this case. That’s especially important in Stockbridge, where the majority of residents are second-home owners, and thus do not get a voice in local elections or town meeting. In turn, it makes the spirit of democracy — a participatory dialogue with room for civil disagreement between fellow residents and officials — all the more important.

Fortunately for Stockbridge, the healthy embrace of that necessary give and take seems to have helped the entire community dodge a potentially divisive bullet, at least for now. The broader issues behind Mr. White’s proposal are real and deserve attention. Folks on fixed incomes in Stockbridge, like their counterparts in other South County towns, often disproportionately struggle to handle rising tax bills and stay rooted in their hometown, although hopefully this saga will raise the profile of extant municipal programs specifically tailored to address this. Meanwhile, some capital expenditures coming down the pike might behoove Stockbridge to take a good look at how it will raise the needed revenue, although it also behooves the town to get a clearer idea of the character and exact costs of those projects before considering any seismic shifts in tax policy.

For now, though, it’s worth acknowledging that the spirit of democracy spoke in Stockbridge, and the leaders of the town’s top board listened, defusing the potential for more unnecessary divisiveness. That victory for unity is worth celebrating.

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