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Pittsfield City Council Finally Sets Tax Rate
By Jack Guerino, iBerkshires Staff
09:00PM / Tuesday, December 03, 2019
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Assessor Paula King gives a presentation on the tax classification figures to the City Council on Tuesday.


Councilor at Large Melissa Mazzeo questions Assessor Paula King at Tuesday's special meeting in this image taken from PCTV's Facebook livestream debut.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — After three meetings and a debate over the use of free cash, City Council on Tuesday approved a tax rate only after Mayor Linda Tyer made concessions.
 
Councilors swiftly approved the use of an additional $1 million in free cash to offset the tax rate and set a residential tax rate of $19.71 and a commercial rate of $40.36, per $1,000 valuation.
 
"I want to credit [Assessor] Paula King because over the last couple of weeks, she has had to have several presentations ready," Ward 6 Councilor John Krol said. "So thank you for bearing with us on that."
 
This new rate has a residential shift factor of .8087 that results in a 1.6562 shift factor on the Commercial, Industrial, Personal Property side. The rate is an increase of 29 cents on the fiscal 2019 residential rate and an increase of 42 cents on the commercial rate.
 
This decision comes after a standoff between the City Council and the mayor, who was not present Tuesday, which started in mid-November. The mayor originally offered to stack another $500,000 in free cash on top of the budgeted $750,000 to use a total of $1.25 million in free cash to offset the tax rate.
 
The mayor wanted to make this addition to keep the residential rate under $20.
 
The majority of the council wanted to use more free cash so residents would see a lesser increase than 57 cents. Councilors first asked for $750,000 instead of $500,000. This was quickly upped to $1 million. 
 
Tyer was willing to compromise on $750,000, still hoping to make a hefty deposit of free cash into stabilization but the council majority stonewalled two orders requesting $750,000 in free cash.
 
Monday, Tyer broke the stalemate and submitted an order asking for an additional $1 million in free cash but no more.
 
Tyer had said at prior meetings that she was hesitant to make this allocation because it went against many of the financial policies her administration set in place. But she was unwilling to hold out further with tax bills needing to go out by Dec. 31.
 
If a tax rate was not set within the week, it was unlikely tax bills would be out by this date. The city would be unable to collect taxes in a timely manner and would be forced to borrow. The City Council last week set a special meeting for Tuesday specifically to deal with the tax rate issue. 
 
The council made three votes: one to allocate the $1 million, which only Councilor at Large Peter White voted against,;a vote to file the original $750,000 order that was never voted on because of a charter objection last week, and the vote to accept the split tax rate, with only Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Simonelli voting in the negative.
 
As it stands, a tax bill based on the average home value of $194,288 will be $3,829.42. On the commercial side, the bill based on the median business value of $189,500 will be $7,648.22.
 
Before actually setting the rate, King did give a presentation showing the city had a $44,339,239 increase in value, which equates to $1,556,217 in taxes.
 
She said the last fiscal year was a bit of an outlier because the city saw nearly $51.8 million in growth.
 
"That was the largest new growth we had in over a decade," King said. "I did go back to check because that was an unusual year. I went back to fiscal year '18, which is more comparable. We had $45.8 million in new growth." 
 
She said total new growth on the residential side is $10,462,536 in value which equates to $203,182 in taxes.
 
"This is primarily new construction, new houses, additions, decks, thing of that nature," she said. 
 
King broke this down further and said the assessed value of single-family homes increased by 4.1 percent. This is a difference of $86,790. There was also an increase of 1.7 percent increase in two-family homes and a 0.2 percent increase in three-family home values.
 
Condominiums took a negative 0.7 percent shift that equates to $1,032,6000. She attributed this condos turning over into apartments. She said apartments took a negative 0.2 percent shift, which equates to a difference of $342,390. 
 
Total growth in commercial values is $2,300,360 and $91,876 in taxes. Total growth in industrial values is $553,233 and $22,096 in taxes.
 
King said commercial values took a very slight dip with a 0.4 percent decrease that represents a $1,380,830 decrease in assessed value. 
 
"This is mostly due to a decrease in parcel count," she said.
 
Industrial values decreased 0.03 percent equating to a difference in value of $419,427 and the power plant increased in value by 0.6 percent, equating to a $242,660 increase.
 
King said total growth in personal property is $31,023,110 in value and $1,239,063 in taxes, which she mostly attributed to public utilities increases.
 
"It is always our most significant new growth ... it is mostly made of NStar putting $15 million in, Berkshire Gas reported $4.8 million, Time Warner reporting $1.1 million in new growth, and a couple of solar projects coming to completion," she said.  
 
The meeting lasted just under an hour.
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