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Residents fail to attend tax classification hearing

Date: 12/6/2013

By Carley Dangona

WESTFIELD – The turnout for the second public hearing regarding the upcoming City Council vote on the 2014 fiscal year tax classification was poor – less than 15 people – but those in attendance didn’t hesitate to speak up.

At its Nov. 21 meeting, the City Council conducted the second half of the public hearing regarding the tax classification, continued from Nov. 7. The council is scheduled to discuss and vote on the matter at its Dec. 5 meeting.

At the time of the hearing, the percentage of increase and whether it would affect residential or commercial taxpayers was not determined since the matter was still open for public opinion.

Ward 6 Councilor Christopher Crean addressed the lackluster attendance. “This should be standing room only – more people attended the public hearing for the dog park. It’s unfortunate,” he said, thanking the business community for its participation in the meeting.

At-large City Councilor Brent Bean said, “We opened this public hearing for another day to make sure residents and business owners came. [There’s] not a lot of residents here and that hurts. It doesn’t take just the 13 of us, it takes everybody to point some stuff out [and] give us the facts.”

Mike McMahon, city collector, urged the council, “We must set it by [the next council meeting on] Dec. 5. If we don’t get the bill out by Dec. 31, we can petition the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) to send a third estimated bill – they don’t have to say yes,”

He explained that if the DOR declined to do so, Westfield residents would face “a whopper of a bill” in April because all of the tax increases would be lumped together.

Founder of Lawry Freight System, Bill Lawry said, “Being a resident and an industrial property owner, I guess you could call me a hybrid taxpayer. What I’m asking is that you move this shift more to a balanced ratio, 1 to 1. This does not have to happen all at once, but every year give more of a tax break to the industrial and commercial property owners. Now is the time to continue this policy. I’m truly thinking of the city and the future generation.”

Lawry continued, “It’s not every day that we have a Gulfstream or Home Depot coming to town. This may be the last of the big taxpayers. This is a very tough decision you have to make. Please listen to that little voice in the back of your head. Why should one class of property owner pay more than other types of property owners, especially when one class cannot even vote? I do now want to get into taxation without representation and have people start throwing tea into the Westfield River, but I can clearly see the effects of a smooth tax rate.”

According to his research, at-large Councilor David Flaherty said the average tax bill for a small, family-owned business is $510,000 annually.

“When we shift it to commercial, we’re shifting it to the little, family-owned businesses, who are then turning around and shifting it back to the consumers, who in many cases are us because we’re the ones that are buying stuff from these very small businesses,” Flaherty said, advocating for fellow councilors to considered a more balance shift between residents and business owners to be enacted over time.

No one spoke in favor of the tax shift.