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‘Upward spiral’ of Great Barrington taxes needs to stop

In a letter to the editor, Great Barrington resident Bobby Houston writes: “In the big picture, continuous tax increases harm the local economy. Surrounding towns all emerge as tax havens from GB.”

To the Editor:

Last night at Annual Town Meeting, Monument Mountain Regional High School Principal Marianne Young  spoke with great passion on behalf of her school, and it made me love Great Barrington even more than I already do. I think Monument is a great school — and she is one of the best things about it. For that reason, I want to share my reactions to her comments.

First of all, I’m a public school guy. I did K-12 in public school, in a town that poured everything into its schools. (Yes, there was a unified tax rate — a steep one.) Nobody went to private school — nobody. It was great. So I’m all for public education — a wise investment, our best idea.

And I love Monument. It’s artsy and spirited and smart — just like GB.

That said, the argument that fiscal oversight is “sending a bad message” to our kids is, in my opinion, wrong. Kids get all kinds of messages — often not the ones we intend or think. At the same time, I don’t think too many Barrington kids read The Edge or the Record. If they do, then they know there are complexities, committees, and lots of adult energy going in their direction, which is good — people care.  So the real message is: democracy.

There is no denying that the latest tax increase touched a nerve. Marianne Young’s passion was met with 215 “no” votes, also cast in passion — cast by people who showed up, listened, and made a hard choice. A really hard choice: when, if ever, do we call a time-out?

In the big picture, continuous tax increases harm the local economy. Surrounding towns all emerge as tax havens from GB, and the economic recovery of our town is suppressed. Property values and housing stock stagnate, tax income likewise, which means steadily increasing pressure on the taxpayers who remain in place — many of whom were struggling to begin with.

My point is simple: we need more revenue, not less. GB wants to flourish, so that BHRSD can get what it needs from GB. And if the GB tax base grows, the pie gets bigger and budgets can grow without raising our rates every year. But the tax base won’t grow if GB is a town to avoid. So the upward spiral of taxes needs to be stopped.

I’m confident we’ll get this sorted out. The budget will pass in 45 days just as Chip Elitzer suggested, and, in the meantime, the Regional Agreement Amendment Committee (RAAC) has gotten a loud wake-up call to fix the system. The time is now.

Bobby Houston

Great Barrington

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