Targeting second-home owners is ill advised

Is Great Barrington about to become The People’s Republic of Great Barrington?

All hell is breaking loose in the best small town in America. Michael Wise has come up with a plan that would raise taxes on the rich and specifically, on out-of-towners and second-home owners who have, for their part, become alarmed and are now part of the debate on this issue.

The second-home people insist that they are a crucial part of the economy. They pay for many of the town services while making few demands on the town since, among other issues, their kids don’t use the schools.

There is also a question of fairness. We know that second-home owners in the Berkshires don’t usually vote here and they believe, I suspect correctly, that they are being singled out because they have no say in the way the town works.

What’s more, there is an onerous “personal property tax” that second-homers have to pay. When I was a weekender I hated that and I think it would be hypocritical to think anything has changed. Our restaurants, our businesses and frankly, the very values of our homes have been affected by the presence of these folks. To make pariahs out of them is just plain stupid and unwise. It is time for each of us to practice the golden rule and put ourselves in their place.

This is a very serious issue. It is true that at least one selectman ran and won based on his pledge to implement the Wise plan. If three of the five Selectmen raise their hands and vote for the tax-the-out-of-towners plan, it will be a done deal.

Wait just a minute! Isn’t this a major reallocation of resources? We just had a town meeting in which we discussed ad nauseam whether to buy a piece of equipment. You mean to tell me that this whole unwise Wise plan will be decided at an ill-attended Selectboard meeting?

At the very least, there ought to be a special town meeting on this matter ensuring a robust discussion. This smells a lot like a silly and dangerous idea to ensure personal political popularity. Just sayin’.

Should those who don’t pay their taxes have their property sold at tax lien auctions?

Taxes are high or higher, depending on where you live. Sometimes you really get your money’s worth. Sometimes, when the bureaucracy gets too large, you are treated with indifference. Sometimes the town manager returns your call.

Nevertheless, people should pay their taxes. Sometimes, people don’t pay because they can’t. Sometimes people don’t pay because they won’t.

I am sure that everyone who is on the delinquent list gets notified that they are in arrears. So for the rest of us who do pay taxes, it makes a certain amount of sense that those who do not are held accountable. If someone owns a home and can’t pay the taxes, it might be a good idea to sell the home or the property.

When Pittsfield recently held a tax lien auction, the money from delinquents came pouring in. That makes sense. That’s why taxing authorities often announce tax amnesties. People know that the town or city isn’t kidding.

In some small towns the tax persons are not as active as they could be. Of course, it’s all about the services that are offered. Fire departments are very important. Alford has a terrific volunteer fire department. They contract with the state police for a part-time presence.

Hollenbeck Avenue in Great Barrington apparently doubles as the local speedway. People are so afraid for their kids that they have put up signs advising that children live in the houses that line the street. So how come we don’t see police picking up the speeders? When people receive value for their taxes, it’s easier for them to pay up. Just sayin’.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 5/30/15

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