Great Barrington Selectboard: New tax rate lower than expected; bees buzz; DuBois gets a legacy committee; town mulls additional liquor licenses
One by one, those with existing liquor licenses strode to the podium to plead their cases. Unless one is particularly thirsty, it’s uncommon to come across all of these men in one night.
Great Barrington — Due to a robust amount of new growth — mainly in residential and commercial construction — the town’s 2019 tax rate will be lower than previously estimated, town manager Jennifer Tabakin announced at Monday night’s selectboard meeting. The selectboard also authorized the creation of a legacy committee for W.E.B. Du Bois. The agricultural commission announced that the town is well on its way to creating a bee-friendly community that other municipalities in the state are looking to emulate. And work will soon begin on street and sidewalk improvements to Railroad Street.
This is good news and good buzz by most estimates, but much of the Monday night’s selectboard meeting was spent on a heated debate over liquor licenses, with nearly all of the town’s liquor store owners in attendance. It was an unusually packed agenda for late August, as well as a packed house with tempers heating in a room already hot enough to cause many in the audience to fan themselves.
Through an anomaly of sorts, the town of Great Barrington has four unused beer and wine licenses. Selectboard policy, set more that 25 years ago, stipulates that they will remain unused. Members of the current selectboard thought the policy was worth looking into: How is it the licenses exist, why are they not being used and should they be uncorked?
Officially, the town is supposed to have a total of seven licenses: two all-alcohol, and five beer and wine. At a town meeting in 1989, residents chose to grandfather all existing licenses, including seasonal and beer and wine, and convert all of them into “all-alcohol” licenses. But technically the town still has four unused beer and wine licenses.
One by one, those with existing liquor licenses strode to the podium to plead their cases. Unless one is particularly thirsty, it’s uncommon to come across all of these men in one night. These are men that most would recognize, men who have responsibly run stores selling liquor for decades, who have employed other local residents and who have given to innumerable charity events — men like Eddy Domaney, Joe Aberdale, Ray Almori, Matt Masiero. Among them, the idea of increased competition in a town of 7,000 was, not surprisingly, about as popular as a warm, flat beer.
Speaking in favor of additional licenses was Matt Rubiner of Rubiner’s Cheesemongers & Grocers. Cheese goes with wine, and he’d like to sell wine as unique and artisanal as the handcrafted cheeses he passionately sources. “Is it the work of the selectboard to restrain free market competition?” Rubiner asked the board.
Given the heated debate as well as other considerations to navigate, such as the town’s embryonic marijuana retail culture, the selectboard voted to further study the issue.
The tax rate, as well as other news, got somewhat lost in the shuffle. The reason the tax rate is lower than expected is because more growth means more taxable assets. When there are more taxable assets, the tax rate drops.
At the annual town meeting, the tax rate was estimated to be $16.18 per $1,000. But due to $36 million in new growth, which can be a sign of a strong economy, the tax rate will instead be $15.72, about 75 cents higher than last year. “It’s good news that valuations are going up,” Tabakin said. The total taxable value of Great Barrington — which includes all homes, buildings, etc. — is an astounding $1.5 billion.
And here come some more numbers:
The median home valuation in Great Barrington is now $305,650, which translates into a median tax bill of $4,805. (The median home value is generally considered a more accurate calculation than an “average” home value because medians better absorb outliers at the top and bottom.) The median homeowner will pay $296 more than last year.
Residents who live in the Great Barrington Fire District — which provides homes, businesses and hydrants with water — will see an increase of $5, for a total of $363. Residents will pay an additional median surcharge of $97 for the Community Preservation Act.
The town’s total budget — which includes the town’s share of the Berkshire Hills Regional School District — is $23.5 million, an increase of nearly 9 percent from last year.
In other news, the agricultural commission announced the completion of an 88-page report regarding Great Barrington’s Pollinator Action Plan. (The Edge will be providing more detail on it in a subsequent article.) The selectboard unanimously approved the creation of an official town committee tasked with annually celebrating the town’s native son, civil rights pioneer W.E.B. Du Bois. Gwendolyn Hampton VanSant and Randy Weinstein will serve as co-chairs.
The town also signed off on a bid of $1.1 million for the reconstruction of Railroad Street. Work will commence in about four weeks and is expected to be completed by the end of June 2019. The scope of the work will include new sidewalks, historic lighting and improvements to the parking lot at the top of the street. Eliminated from the project were cherry trees, a fiber optic conduit and a flashing LED pedestrian crossing sign. The work on Railroad Street will be followed by improvements to Bridge and Church streets.