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Mayor's proposed tax shift increases bills

Date: 11/3/2010

Nov. 3, 2010

By Katelyn Gendron

Assistant Editor

AGAWAM -- Mayor Richard Cohen released his recommendation for the fiscal year 2011 (FY11) tax classification to the city council last week, raising the average single family tax bill by approximately $90.

Cohen has recommended a shift of 1.68, which would set the residential tax rate at $13.96 and the commercial, industrial and personal property rates at $28.49, increasing bills by $93 for residential property owners, $204 for commercial property owners and $316 for industrial property owners.

"The taxes went up less this year than they did in the last two years and I'm very happy about that," Cohen said, noting that the average property value decreased by 4 percent.

Some city councilors are less than pleased with the mayor's recommendation, however.

"I'm not too happy with that," City Council Vice President Robert Rossi said of the FY11 tax factor. "The possibilities are very limited because we've already passed the budget. The time to be concerned about raising taxes is during budget time."

He added, "The bottom line is we're going to have to find ways to do more with less and not continue the budget with free cash."

City Councilor Robert Magovern echoed Rossi's sentiments. "We have a million [dollars] left over in our budget, so if we have a million [dollars in free cash] it means that we're overestimating our budget and charging the good citizens of Agawam too much in their taxes. We should do better budgeting," he said.

Cohen disagreed, adding, "It's a wonderful sound bite to say that. They passed the budget unanimously [on June 21] and when they pass the budget, the tax rate is set. That's the cost of doing business. Nobody wants to see taxes go up but just like at home, the cost of doing business in Agawam goes up and it has to be paid for.

"It doesn't make sense to cut more [from the budget]," he continued. "Where do we cut on the town side? Do we cut employees and then pay unemployment tax, which will cost us more money? Cut trash pick-up and then have trash in the streets?"

Rossi said the only alternative the council can focus on now is "how to lessen the burden between residential and commercial [taxes]."

Cohen noted Agawam "still has the lowest split tax rate in the Pioneer Valley," ranking the town's average single family tax bill as 262nd out of 337 cities reporting in the Commonwealth. Longmeadow is ranked 44th with an average bill of $6,394 for FY10 and West Springfield is ranked 178th, charging $3,583.

However, Rossi was not convinced. "You can throw numbers around and say that Agawam is lower than West Springfield but the bottom line is that people aren't coming to Agawam," he said.

A Classification Hearing will take place at the Dec. 6 City Council meeting.

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