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City Council settles debate over tax increases

Date: 11/30/2010

Dec. 1, 2010

By Katelyn Gendron

Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD -- The City Council finally set the tax rate after lengthy debate over the shift factor at its special meeting on Nov. 24.

The Council's Finance Committee unanimously recommended a 1.5 percent property tax increase and a shift of 1.65 -- down from the current 1.69 -- therefore requiring that $1.2 million be withdrawn from the city's stabilization account to cover expenses. Finance Chair and Ward 5 Councilor Richard Onofrey Jr. called the use of stabilization funds as a necessary effort to provide some tax relief.

"We've done a lot of work to build it up," he said of the fund. "We're in hard times and that's what it's there for."

Not all City Councilors were convinced, however, prompting a lively discussion over the percentage increase and the shift factor.

"It's giving the wrong impression to people," Councilor at large David Flaherty said. "We're not a financially healthy super-duper city when we have so much debt. In order to help people out, we need to cut spending."

Ward 6 City Councilor Christopher Crean, a member of the Finance Committee, rebutted, "We have cut. We spent the whole summer cutting, cutting and cutting."

An amendment for a 2 percent tax levy failed to garner enough votes and the motion for 1.5 percent ultimately carried.

Flaherty motioned for a shift factor of 1.58 percent, which failed, along with subsequent efforts by other councilors for a 1.60, 1.62 and 1.63 factor.

Onofrey said the average tax bill with increase by approximately $100 for residents, from the current rate of $14.68, and $300 for commercial, industrial and personal property owners from the present rate of $28.60.

Ward 1 City Councilor Christopher Keefe called this year "the moment to reach in a provide a little tax relief."

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