Vol. III No. 17 9/1/2022
Notes from the Finance Committee, August 24, Hybrid meeting
- Jay Bikofsky, Chair
- Steve Shatz
- Jim Balfanz
- Bill Vogt
- Ed Lane, alternate
- Diane Reuss
- Pam Boudreau
- Jorja Marsden
- Chair made clear that as a committee, Finance has no policy-making role and is merely advisory to the SB
- Minutes from May 5 and May 9 approved as written
- Yearend transfer of Reserve Funds to cover any shortfalls.
- Highway Department machinery and Equipment
- Computer Technician
- Retirement Fund
- Cost of postings (for meetings and employment)
- Total $87,000
- Finance Committee voted to recommend transfers to SB
- Residential Tax Exemption (RTE)
- Bullet points prepared by Chair and Shatz in opposition to RTE
- RTE passed in 1979 and adopted in only 16 of 351 MA towns
- No empirical data to suggest it worked
- Can reduce assessment by as much as 35%
- There are other programs e.g. "Old Age" exemption and Tax Deferment
- Committee members expressed opinions that RTE was divisive, did not share the costs of the down evenly, was not needs-based, and there were other needs-based programs for which the old and poor could apply.
- One member mentioned that folks did not want to say they were old and poor and would rather figure out some way to pay the tax
- Chair opened comments to public and restated that the Committee does not make policy and is only advisory to SB
- Balfanz mentioned that voting on RTE is part of a mandatory Tax Classification Hearing and occurs every year. Taxes have to meet failing infrastructure and rising educational costs for fewer and fewer children. He wanted stats: how many residents in distress? What are their ages? Actual number of seniors? Why not have means tests?
- Lane asked if RTE is revenue neutral
- Marsden listed examples of State Aid and said folks don't know about those and therefore don't apply
- Anita Schwerner: appreciates Hybrid meetings; questioned Shatz and other members meeting privately to write opposing bullet points and not making the document public before the meeting — does that violate Open Meeting Law?
Schwerner supports RTE because it helps young who want to live in Stockbridge and raise a family. She suggested we vote for RTE this year — evaluate result and based on that vote for or against RTE next year after getting the empirical data Shatz wants because, as Balfanz said, it is mandatory to vote on RTE annually
- Howard Zern shared information from the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) and was opposed to "handing people relief"
- Bruce Auerbach was opposed to RTE but appeared to support voluntary aid to poor
- Gene Fidell thanked the Finance Committee and appreciated Rockwell's "Four Freedoms" hanging on wall behind them
Editor's questions: 1. There were eight members present but there are only 7 members of the Finance Committee - could the Chair clarify? 2. If there is no empirical data, on what basis does the Finance Committee oppose RTE?
- From the 2020 census, stats for Stockbridge are:
- median age 58.4, 25% higher than other towns in Berkshire; 1.5 times higher than state
- 56% female
- 90% white
- Income per capita $41,355; median income $62,292 (about 75% of amount in state)
- 13.1% live below poverty line — 1.4 times the rate in Berkshire County; 1.3 times the rate in state
- Zern's figures ($114,000 median income and 2% percent below poverty level and the real stats $62,000 median income and 13.5% below poverty level) actually makes the case for RTE. That is because the FFIEC figures are estimated based upon mortgages. See # 3
- Only 16 of 351 towns adopted RTE perhaps because RTE only works with a unique population make up. In Stockbridge the pop. Is 60% second homeowners that makes RTE potentially workable. Because of the unique pop divide, for primary homeowners, there is no relationship between the assessment of the home and the income of the homeowner — exactly the condition RTE was meant to address.
- RTE is renewed annually — empirical data that it works is the annual renewal in the Towns that adopted it
- Tax rate is the same for everyone, but if the assessment is reduced, taxes are reduced
- Tax deferment puts off an obligation usually to the children or inheritors; RTE eradicates the obligation
Photo: Lionel Delevingne