Jendi Reiter: Northampton needs to take fresh look at finance
To the editor:
Now that Northampton’s property tax override has passed, I hope the mayor and City Council will take advantage of this breathing space to explore new and better ways to bring the city’s accounts into balance. These include:
• Pursuing more aggressive Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) programs with our large nonprofit institutions. Cities like Boston and Bristol, R.I., are showing the way.
• Splitting the property tax rates and asking businesses to pay a little more. At the start of this year, our commercial tax rate ranked 243rd out of 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts.
Northampton should compete on its quality of life, not on its willingness to charge businesses less than other towns.
• Using city real estate more efficiently. Since the police station was built to accommodate future growth, it may have room to rehouse city personnel from other departments, freeing up older and less efficient properties for disposition. Under-utilized space at the Senior Center could be put to the same purpose. A case could also be made for the sale of Memorial Hall.
• Taking a hard look at how our Fire Department is staffed. There appears to be a high ratio of supervisors to firefighters as compared with, say, Easthampton.
Without a doubt, changes at the state level would help a great deal. We need a much more progressive income tax system to revive state aid to cities and towns, and local-option income taxes are worth a look. In the meantime, the city is not without tools to avoid the next override.