Great Barrington tax shift a short-sighted mistake

Michael Wise, who has given so much of his time and energy to Great Barrington, has come up with a disastrous plan that threatens to tear the town asunder.

Chairman of the Finance Committee, Wise wants to soak the rich by raising their real estate taxes while lowering the taxes of people whose houses are worth less than $400,000.

This drastic plan really ought to be voted on by the town at a town meeting or offered as a ballot proposition, but as the situation stands, it can be voted on by the five selectmen. Since one of the selectmen adopted the Wise Plan when he ran for office, there is a good chance that it will pass.

Karen Allen, the actress and weaver who has a business in downtown Great Barrington, offers one of the best reasons for opposing the not-so-Wise plan. She knows a slew of older residents who bought their homes long ago for modest prices and then painstakingly paid them off over the years.

Now their houses have appreciated to the point that they are hardly able to pay Great Barrington’s current onerous taxes. Karen reports that as a result, they are now contemplating selling their homes in anticipation of yet higher taxes.

Hey, that just isn’t right. These are our most cherished citizens and they deserve better.

This also is of great concern to the second-home owners who usually pay a great deal of money for their homes and who, as a rule, do not vote in the town.

It is ridiculous to make these people pay huge taxes. They don’t use many of the town services since they are not here most of the time.

Since a good deal of our economy is based on the good will of these people, it makes no sense to alienate them and turn them into justifiably angry people who could just as easily move to Alford.

Think about what this will do to the town. Let’s remember that second-home owners already pay a “personal property tax” on their possessions which is just another regressive, sneaky tax that Massachusetts imposes on people to grab their money.

I recently spoke with a person with generally progressive views who suggested that we tax second-home owners as highly as possible. His anger was almost palpable. This attitude is about as short-sighted as possible.

Talk about biting the hand that feeds you! Second-home owners keep our town businesses going. They support our electricians and plumbers and the people who mow the lawn. I am sure that these folks are going to turn out en masse to protest this mistaken move.

My sources on the Board of Selectmen are telling me that this is not going to happen this year. My conversations with some members of the board suggest that they have little appetite for this fight, nor do the members of the Finance Committee.

I would hate to think that this decision will be based on how much a political office holder’s home is worth, but all too often, that’s the way things get done. Needless to say, our town fathers and mothers would like to get this off the agenda and are postponing that time when they will have to face the music.

Michael Wise lost an election for selectman because many of us saw him as elitist. This new plan of his may well be an attempt to square himself with the people who voted against him. I certainly hope that this isn’t the case.

Many people are devoted to Wise because of his unstinting work for the town but even hard working people make mistakes. There are times when we make bad decisions and once they are made, things can go downhill fast. To quote Nancy Reagan, “Just say no.”

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 8/21/15

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