Stockbridge gets its fare share; maybe it’s Lenox that’s getting shorted
When I saw the teaser for Carole Owens’ last piece (CONNECTIONS: What’s in an address? Tax revenue), I quickly clicked to see if she had found what would be shocking information: that businesses were paying their taxes to the wrong towns. After reading it, all I found was the non-fact-based ramblings of another angry Stockbridge resident, something that there seems to be no shortage of these days.
I’ll address the biggest issue raised in the piece first—the claim that three major businesses may be paying their room and meal taxes to Lenox when Stockbridge should be getting the cash. I’ll get to the fact that the claim is outright false in a moment, but first I have to ask why the writer didn’t simply look it up. Isn’t that what we want from writers? If she has a question, find the answer and then tell us. But instead she made a claim about the possible misallocation of hundreds of thousands of tax dollars a year without spending five minutes to look into it. How is that the basis for an article? A crackpot theory or rumor with no attempt at research?
And that research was easy. I called the state Department of Revenue after reading the piece. They were able to confirm to me what I already knew: Those organizations are paying their taxes to Stockbridge. So there you go. There is no story because the funds are already going to Stockbridge. But deadline called and the long-held complex in Stockbridge of being the little brother to Lenox in the tourism game was due to be itched, as well.
But really the story here isn’t over at all. There is a town getting shorted in this deal, just not the one Owens tried to claim. All of those tax dollars flow into the Stockbridge coffers, but it is Lenox that provides those border businesses all of the services a resident or business would expect from the local government. Lenox provides these businesses with water, sewer, police and fire coverage, and ambulance service, not to mention that Lenox maintains the roads most of the guests use to access the properties. Yet residents of Stockbridge, shown again in Owens’ piece, have long cried that Lenox is somehow in the wrong.
Or how about this one? Elm Court will also pay all of its taxes to Stockbridge and, once again, Lenox will provide all of the services. And to top that off, the lengthy legal battle over the project was not defended by Stockbridge; it was Lenox that had to spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars fending off a lawsuit over the project.
But wait—it gets better. The leaders of that lawsuit all lived in Stockbridge. That’s right. Lenox paid to fend off a lawsuit from Stockbridge residents so that the town of Stockbridge could collect hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in revenue, while Lenox would be providing all the governmental services. Boy, does Lenox really take advantage of little ol’ Stockbridge.
Further, the story began with a desultory tale about the fact that the businesses themselves like to claim they are in Lenox. Additionally, using a number of unnamed mystery people, Owens claimed that the big, bad Lenox Chamber was behind this decision made by those corporations. Believe me, I am sure Lenox businesses love the connection to these amazing attractions, but they had no power to force the biggest players in town to claim to be in Lenox when they have land in Stockbridge. These companies did that on their own. No one forces Tanglewood to print “Lenox, Mass.” on its items; yet, to be fair, that is its address.
I don’t know for sure why they all want to be more closely tied to Lenox. At least, I don’t know why they have wanted to in the past. Perhaps it’s the fact that Lenox brings in five times the tourist tax, and therefore total tourism, than Stockbridge. Maybe it has something to do with the brand that Lenox has built dating back over a hundred years as a destination. Could there be more donors and business relationships with Lenox? Sure, there could be.
How the tradition of claiming to be in Lenox started is hard to nail down. I can take a better guess at why they would want to continue it now. Let’s just take Tanglewood and go through the recent years and examine the relationship with both towns.
Remember the Memorial Day Marathon at Tanglewood? While in 2016 it was chased out of town, and why it had to leave was no mystery, the promoter himself was refreshingly honest. Matt Linick told a local newspaper at the time, “Lenox was very supportive, but unfortunately the dynamic among Lenox, Tanglewood and Stockbridge became too much for us to manage.”
Asked to elaborate, Linick commented that: “Changes in Stockbridge town government and the police department made it extremely hard to produce the event. We do others all over the country and this was the most difficult to run, but it shouldn’t be.” He then added, “I love Lenox and I’m sorry we have to move from there. I do feel bad that local businesses will be impacted, but we had to do what was best for the event at this point.”
And if chasing away events with poor leadership wasn’t bad enough, do you remember the time that Stockbridge tossed around the idea of pulling the liquor license for Tanglewood? That’s right, and it took the entire business community of both towns pouring out to make sure the incredibly stupid idea got no traction.
As Kim Noltemy, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s chief marketing and communications officer, said at the time: “It would be a huge challenge. We’re certain it would affect ticket sales.”
Chasing of events, possibly stripping a liquor license: Those are not things that build a relationship with a local business. I could go on and on, but let’s enjoy just one more example. When Tanglewood planned the now-ready-to-open $30 million Linde Center, the town of Stockbridge made it host multiple site visits before approving a simple 3-foot widening of a driveway. So the area’s biggest attraction and the driver of the local tourism economy was looking to invest that much money and offer year-round programing and the town of Stockbridge was adding extra review for 3 feet more of a driveway.
These are just a few of the many follies I could share—and I didn’t even detail the constant uninformed chorus from the town that nonprofits like Tanglewood should be paying massive property tax bills—but after reading them, put yourself in Tanglewood’s shoes. You have land in both towns: one that provides you all your services and support, and another that seems to harass you for no reason. Which would you proclaim as your home?
This entire discussion reminds us all of a deeper problem. Stockbridge is home to some of the region’s most amazing resources for our tourism economy and that is a big task. The truth is we need Stockbridge; the Berkshires need a stronger Stockbridge. Instead, we are left with a jealous, angry and often inept partner that adds no value to the local economy, but squabbles over what additional money it should be getting and how everyone is doing the town wrong.
Kameron Spaulding heads his own communications firm, is a member of the Lenox Planning Board and former director of the Lenox Chamber of Commerce.