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Westfield City Council votes on residential, commercial tax rates

Date: 12/11/2015

WESTFIELD – In a special meeting, the City Council voted on a tax shift rate of 1.65, with a residential factor of 87.4412. Residents will now pay $19.44 per thousand, while businesses pay $36.67 per thousand.

The average home valued at $226,900 will see an increase of $204.21 on their bill over the course of the year, a jump of about $51.05 per quarter. The average business valued at $522,400 will see an increase of $1,034.35 a year, equaling out to $258.59 more per quarter.

The City Council voted to use $661,776 from Free Cash to offset the Fiscal Year 2016 tax levy. This money serves as a tax break on a rate that was already on the rise.

Though councilors could cut the amount taken from Free Cash, they could not raise it. Councilor Cindy Harris said she would have liked to see the number higher to give residents a break. Other councilors said they would rather see the money spent elsewhere, as it would not provide enough of a tax break to make a substantial difference to the average homeowner.

Councilor Brent Bean III was in the latter camp.

“We’re talking about … in actual monies on their bill, we’re talking about $45, so that’s about $10, $12 a quarter. I’d rather see that number be given back to them in the form of road projects, paving projects, infrastructure projects. I can understand that people need the money,” Bean said. “It is a drop in the bucket when it comes to savings of tax dollars, that’s why I’d love to see the money go into the city itself.”

Acting Mayor, Mayor Elect and City Council President Brian Sullivan said that the proposed figure from Free Cash was one he was comfortable using towards the levy.

“The department heads in this city have done yeoman’s work in regards to working with a lot less and doing a lot more. When I say that, there are empty positions that haven’t been filled. There are projects that haven’t been done … That all was budgeted last year but was not spent,” Sullivan said. “That’s where this Free Cash is coming from … It’s a year that we can say we’ll give you a little bit of a break. Believe me, as Councilor Bean said it’s not huge dollars that we’re saying can lower the tax, but it’s a number.”

At its regular meeting on Dec. 3, the City Council conducted a public hearing regarding the tax shift rates. Executive Director of the Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce Kate Phelon addressed the Council with concerns about the commercial and industrial tax rate.

During the discussion, shift rates were proposed that would have drastically increased the burden on businesses, and Councilor Christopher Crean said a rate like 1.75, originally proposed by Harris, would set the city back.

“The businesses are residents too. They provide jobs and provide income for people. I don’t believe that because we have economic woes we should slap them in the face and say ‘This is your fault, and we’re now going to up your rates dramatically,’” Crean said. “When I first came on the council, the business rate was high. We have finally got it to where it’s somewhat livable. I don’t want to get away from that because we do have a lot of economic activity.”

Councilor Dave Flaherty suggested the rate of 1.65 as a compromise that would not push the burden entirely to one side or the other.

“It’s a step in the right direction signaling that we care about both groups, but I think it’s a good compromise number,” Flaherty said.

The Council also voted to accept an in lieu of taxes payment of $440,000 from the Westfield Gas and Electric, as it does nearly every year.

Councilor Christopher Keefe raised issue with the deal, saying that as the highest generator of revenue in the city, Westfield Gas and Electric should owe more. Crean and Councilor Mary O’Connell both called the deal “insulting” to the city.

If the Council voted the measure down, the city would be short the amount of the payment, which has already been factored into the budget.

“It’s time to look at this agreement again, but not at the time of a tax vote,” Sullivan said.

The vote passed, 9-3, with Keffe, Flaherty and O’Connell voting against it.