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Westfield City Council votes to raise tax rate for FY15

Date: 1/2/2015

WESTFIELD – After much debate from the members of City Council and concerned citizens speaking out on Dec. 17, the city of Westfield will still see a raise in both residential and commercial taxes for the upcoming fiscal year.

Residential tax rates will jump up from $18.18 per $1,000 to $18.54 in fiscal year 2015, while commercial tax rates will go from $33.84 per $1,000 to $34.69, using $1.2 million from free cash to help offset the taxes.

This adds up to an $81 increase on the average Westfield homeowner with a residential value of $225,000 for the upcoming fiscal year, according to City Assessor Robin Johnson. The average commercial property worth $535,000 will see a rise of $454.75.

After the new tax rate, the council voted to move $1.6 million of free cash to help compensate for the $3.2 million that was cut from the health insurance premiums for municipal employees. The council voted to cut the money earlier this year until the new tax rate was set. The $1.6 million that was restored will buy the council some time, as it will get the city through the first few months of 2015.

Though discussion on this was lengthy, some councilors argued that with extra money in the stabilization fund, or the “rainy day fund,” this was a chance to give citizens a tax break rather than an increase.

Councilor Ralph Figy said that with less than $3 million in free cash, the city would be walking a fine line if taxes were not raised.   

“We’re basically operating the budget for the rest of the year hoping nothing goes wrong [if taxes are not raised],” Figy said.

Councilor Brian Sullivan also warned against dipping too far into the stabilization fund.

“We’re going to drain what a lot of people are calling ‘the rainy day fund.’ I don’t use that phrase anymore because it took us a long time to get that money built up,”?Sullivan said.

“It’s not a rainy day fund. It’s the fund to keep the rain away ... We’re at a time where we’re trying to give both residents and businesses a break as best we can without being foolish, quite honestly,” he continued.

Ultimately, the council decided what would and would not be “foolish” for the future of the city.