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'Tax Squad' to find ways to lower taxes

Date: 3/15/2011

March 16, 2011

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

HOLYOKE — City Councilors Kevin Jourdain, Todd McGee and Linda Vacon, Treasurer Jon Lumbra and Auditor Brian Smith have joined with Mayor Elaine Pluta as well as business owners and residents to tackle a subject on the minds of most people this time of year: taxes.

Pluta met for a second time with the group dubbed "The Tax Squad" on March 10.

The goal of the group is to devise a plan that would lower the city's property tax rate over the next five years, Pluta explained. The group has only an advisory status and any decision it makes would have to be put into law by the City Council.

Still in its initial stages, thee group discussed a variety of topics at the meeting including asking the city's assessors to join the group as non-voting members.

Lumbra, voted chair of the group, explained the city is facing a number of capital improvement issues, such as the new library and senior center as well as repairs to municipal parking decks.

With the state facing budget issues, Pluta noted the city must explore revenue-raising options that don't involve the state.

In the effort to lower taxes, Jourdain said that how commercial tax rates are determined as opposed to how residential rates are set are "two different animals."

Pluta added that with property values depressed, tax rates have increased.

"Shifting the tax rate is a political thing," committee member John Whelihan said. Whelihan is a city resident and the director of assessments for Belchertown.

Whelihan explained how the city, under Proposition 2 1/2 is limited not only to how much it can raise property taxes at one time, but also has an overall property tax ceiling.

McGee said representatives of the Holyoke Chamber of Commerce should also be asked to present their views to the group at some time in the future.

The group is meeting twice a month.

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