Institute to foster Pittsfield progress

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Officials from the Boston-based Pioneer Institute presented an overview of those studies on Thursday during a Berkshire Chamber of Commerce meeting.

The report, called The Middle Cities Initiative, is based on statistical information and from meetings with mayors, business owners, residents and community leaders from each city. The groups were asked to assess their city government's performance in public safety, education, municipal management and economic development.

"The hope is that no matter how good your city is, they'll try and make it better," said Scott Baum, the institute's assistant director. "This data should provide a tool for that. It's more important to look at how you compare with other cities in certain areas rather than holistically."

Launched in 2008, the Middle Cities Initiative is intended to help cities and states implement a comprehensive agenda for reviving urban markets and improving city governance. The cities selected for the initiative all have populations greater than 40,000, per capita incomes of less than $20,000, and property values of less than $80,000 per capita.

The report is not available online, but should be up and running later this fall, according to project manager Maria Ortiz Perez.

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Among the elements of the reports are examinations of cities' tax rates.

In a three-year comparison, Pittsfield's fiscal 2008 commercial and industrial tax rate of $28.35 per $1,000 of valuation was shown to be the third highest among the 14 cities included in the study. The city was behind only Holyoke, at $33.98, and Springfield, at $32.04.

Pittsfield's commercial and industrial tax rate was the fourth highest among the 14 cities in both fiscal 2006 and fiscal 2007.

Acknowledging that a high commercial tax rate can be a deterrent to businesses, Baum said the data compiled should not be used to judge each city's present situation, but its future direction.

"The philosophy of this is not to say that Pittsfield is worse than Worcester or such and such," Baum said. "It's to provide data over time so that you can see more importantly which direction your city is headed in, rather than where they are right now.


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