Pittsfield to use $400,000 to offset spike in taxes

Monitor staff
Wednesday, November 01, 2017

A hefty dip into the town’s unreserved fund balance will cushion a major spike in the Pittsfield tax rate this year.

The select board on Tuesday voted 4-1 to use $400,000 from its operating surplus to whittle down a tax rate increase of $2.73 per $1,000 in property value down to $1.21.

Board members ran through different scenarios with town manager Cara Marston, crunching the numbers on what the tax bill increase would look like on a $180,000 home, a typical valuation in town. Without taking any action, a homeowner in a home of that value would have seen their tax bill climb $491.

If the select board opted to use $200,000 from the fund balance, a taxpayer with a home of that value would see their tax bill rise by $350, Marston told them. With $300,000 taken from the fund balance, the increase would be $285.

“How about 400? I feel like it’s an auction,” selectwoman Carole Richardson asked.

Taking $400,000 from the fund balance, Marston answered, would bring the tax hike on a home worth $180,000 down to $217.

Select board members at one point flirted with with going as high as $500,000, but also repeatedly expressed some discomfort about taking so much from the fund balance. 

“We’re not paying for it with a credit card, but it’s getting very close to that slippery slope,” said selectman Jim Adams.

The move still leaves the town with about $1 million in reserves, Marston said. That should cover any emergencies, she told the board.

The sole dissenting vote, ultimately, was Gerard LeDuc, who said  he was nervous about going even as high as $300,000.

The tax spike in town comes from  the school district’s budget, which saw a steep rise in health insurance costs, special education costs, and a decline in state aid. Voters passed a school budget in March that cut eight teachers in an effort to cut costs, and twice rejected a new teachers’ contract.

But when Adams asked “Are we getting the best bang for our buck?” and floated the idea of re-exploring shutting down the high school, multiple select board members cut him off.

“I’m sick of beating that dead horse,” selectman Carl Anderson said. “I just think, we here, tonight, are faced with how much of the municipal savings and penny-pinching do we want to use to pay down enough so that the school doesn’t affect the taxpayers as much.”

Anderson last year chaired a committee studying whether shutting down the high school and tuitioning students would save the town any money and found only a minimal savings. Those findings echoed an earlier study conducted by the school district.

The total tax rate for the town has been set at $33.46.


(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)