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Town Council schedules three public hearings for Dec. 5

Date: 11/29/2011

Nov. 30, 2011

By Debbie Gardner

Assistant Editor

WEST SPRINGFIELD — Residents will have the opportunity to voice their opinion on three budgetary issues — the town’s residential and business tax rates, re-bonding for a much-needed water project and bonding authorization for the new library — during public hearings slated for the Dec. 5 Town Council meeting.

The meeting, which will take place in the second floor Town Council chamber of the Municipal Office Building, 26 Central St., begins at 7 p.m.

Residents are encouraged to attend to comment on the town’s split tax rate in a public hearing continued from the Nov. 21 council meeting.

At that meeting, Chairman of the Board of Appraisers Christopher Keefe presented a spreadsheet illustrating the town’s projected property tax rates based on current property valuations, the projected tax levy, and residential and commercial revenue percentage shifts ranging from 1.45 to 1.57 percent.

Keefe told Reminder Publications the current split rate for West Springfield is $16.72 per thousand valuation for residential properties and $34.20 per thousand valuation for commercial/industrial/personal property. He said if the council were to choose the maximum percentage shift allowed by Massachusetts General Law, which is 1.568 percent, “the residential [tax] rate comes in at $17.41 and the business rate somewhere around $36.36.” Were the town to choose a single tax rate, as he said 150 communities statewide do, the projected rate would be $23.18 across the board.

Keefe said the decision regarding how to best balance the town’s split tax rate rests entirely with the council.

“They have to decide whether or not they want to do it, and by how much,” he said. That decision, he added, must then be ratified by the state’s Department of Revenue.

Remo Pizzichemi, president of the West of the River Chamber of Commerce and owner of the Hampden Inn on Riverdale Street, was one of three individuals that night to ask the council to carefully consider how much tax burden they put on local businesses.

After presenting members with a packet of photos showing numerous vacant commercial sites in town, he said, “We have one of the highest commercial tax rates in the area. During this time of economic uncertainty, let’s be the first town in the region to entice businesses to come here.”

Kathleen Nekitopoulos, who spoke as both a resident and a commercial business owner in town, implored the council to tread carefully as they considered where to shift the tax burden.

“This isn’t a war between residents and commercial businesses, it’s all of us,” Nekitopoulos said. “We’re all suffering; the economy is bad for all of us.”

Residents are also encouraged to come and comment on a proposed re-bonding for $10,63 million to finance construction of a replacement for the Southwick well field transmission main, which supplies the majority of water to the town from the wells in Southwick.

The council originally approved a bond for the same amount in June.

At Large Town Councilor Brian Griffin, chairman of the budget subcommittee, said this re-authorization to bond is coming before the council to adjust the verbiage in the bond request to allow the town to apply for lower interest rate and possibly a loan forgiveness grant program that would reimburse the town up to 30 percent of the cost of the project.

“The 2 percent loan is available through the state Department of Environmental Protection, and the forgiveness would be under the same office,” Griffin said. The actual amount of loan forgiveness, which could range from 10 to 30 percent, depends on how many communities apply to the program, he added.

“I applaud the Department of Public Works who has worked so hard to find [this program], look at it and bring it to our attention so we can take advantage of these loans and grant funding,” Griffin said. “It’s great work.”

Griffin said once the council approves the new verbiage, the town would go out and secure the new bond, then rescind the one approved in June.

The third public hearing will allow residents to comment on proposed bonding for the town’s public library project, projected to cost approximately $13.4 million.

The bond request is for $7.1 million, the town’s portion of the construction costs.

West Springfield Public Library Director Antonia Golinsky-Foisy said the project did receive a construction grant award from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners for $6.2 million on July 14.

“This is a bond authorization, it’s just asking for permission, at some point down the road, to bond for the money. We’re not ready yet,” Golinsky-Foisy said.

She explained that to begin receiving funds from the library board, the town must approve the bond request.

“Once town approves the funding … [and] sends in certification of the vote, then the state will release the first 30 percent of the grant, or $1.82 million,” Golinsky-Foisy said.

That money, she explained, would be used to “pay for the vast majority of what is required to get the project through the design development and construction document” phase.

She projected that it could take “more than a year” of work with architects from Lerner, Ladds and Bartels and Board of Library Commissioner consultants to get to the construction phase of the project, at which point the town would need to go out and secure the bond.

Debbie Gardner can be reached by email at

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