• Local
  • Pittsfield, MA
  • more weather >
Massachusetts Route 183 eastbound entering Lenox from Stockbridge, opposite Tanglewood. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

Stockbridge gets its fare share; maybe it’s Lenox that’s getting shorted

More Info
By Saturday, May 18, 2019 Viewpoints 12

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.

The lawn at Tanglewood during a performance in the Shed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

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.”

An artist’s rendering of the Linde Center for Music and Learning at Tanglewood. Image courtesy Boston Symphony Orchestra

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.


More by »
»

12 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Jim Balfanz says:

    Interesting letter…. The writer does accurately point out the fact that it was Stockbridge residents who sued the town of Lenox and Elm Court. Yep. Many of those doing so live in a development that had been strongly opposed when proposed for building by the abutters. The development was approved. Then, along came Elm Court. Now these residents fought the battle in Stockbridge and LOST. So, what did they do? They sued Lenox and Elm court – and LOST AGAIN.

    It was OK when there project was approved, but they they wanted to “Close the gates to the Kingdom.” Classic NIMBY.

    Now, you have a resident of that development who was involved with that legal action against a neighboring town, running for election to the Planning Board in Stockbridge.

    You can’t make this “stuff” up.

    1. Jim Balfanz says:

      It was OK when their….

      1. Jim Balfanz says:

        but they then….

  2. Elliott Morss says:

    As the Chair of the Finance Committee in Lenox, I completely agree with the points made by Kameron Spaulding in his article.

    I view the Carole Owens piece as irresponsible journalism.

    Lenox and Stockbridge are the cultural “jewels” of the Berkshires.

    We should and do work together on most issues affecting our towns.

    We don’t need articles like the Owens piece trying to spark controversy.

    1. danb says:

      Very true Elliot!

  3. Sharon Ann says:

    It’s “fair share”

  4. Joan Bruno says:

    Carol Owens should know that notable Stockbridge residents have been claiming to be from Lenox stretching back to Hawthorne. The answer is probably as simple as where they received their mail. The controversy will become interesting should Rose Hawthorne become a saint of the Roman Catholic church. She was most likely born in Stockbridge, but her Wikipedia page states Lenox as her birthplace. Claiming to be the birthplace of a saint is a fight worth having.

    1. Susan P Bachelder says:

      That the youngest daughter of Nathaniel Hawthorne would be considered for Sainthood is a very interesting read, thank you Joan! And contrary to my initial thinking, she was widely traveled, as was her husband, and did not make her commitment to her vocation until well into her 40’s. The order’s actual site has a fully glossed biography. http://www.hawthorne-dominicans.org for those interested in the contemporary role of sainthood and the history of continuity and disruption in the history of rituals within the church. As to the location of her Shrine, and clearly the number of visitors generated for Stockbridge by the Marian Brothers, I don’t think either Lenox or Stockbridge look likely as the Order is located in HAWTHORNE NY…..that’s easy to remember… thanks again for bringing this tidbit to my attention.

      1. Susan P. Bachelder says:

        BTW – Today is Rose Hawthorne’s birthday…. Say a prayer for Mother Alphonsa and her petition for Sainthood – the Berks. could become the new hotbed for lady Saints!

  5. Patrick White says:

    Kameron,

    First, let me applaud the great job you did as head of the Lenox Chamber. You provided amazing leadership, won numerous national awards for Lenox and the region, and helped bring visitors to all of our communities. Kudos! A few notes readers might want to keep in mind:

    1. When Tanglewood recently applied for liquor licenses for the new restaurant and function spaces, not a single Stockbridge resident voiced opposition to them. The entire discussion was less than 10 minutes and Tanglewood did a good job responding to residents’ questions. The Select Board voted 3-0 to grant them. It’s not fair to label these town leaders as somehow anti-Tanglewood or anti-liquor license when they just granted three new, year-round, 11 PM liquor licenses to Tanglewood to ensure they could operate their restaurant and function halls.

    2. When local boards, like Planning Boards and Conservation Commissions, staffed by volunteers by the way, request information, my direct experience on one of these boards is that Tanglewood has been incredibly supportive of the questions Stockbridge board members ask, and hasn’t hesitated to schedule the required site visits and answer questions honestly and transparently. The driveway “issue” you raise was neither confrontational nor acrimonious. Stockbridge’s Scenic Roads Bylaw includes Hawthorne Road by the way, a Bylaw that protects such jewels as Tanglewood and seems to be supported by those property owners, residential and commercial, that it protects.

    3. I’m pretty sure that ambulance service is provided by Tri-Town, a shared services agreement between Stockbridge, Lenox and Lee. As a resident of the neighborhood, I am incredibly grateful to Lenox for providing support for services like police and fire. My experience is that both towns are committed to the safety of local residents, regardless of actual physical jurisdiction. I’d prefer we don’t advance a point of view that one side or the other gets more or less of its fair share. My view is there are no “sides”, just neighbors who get along great. Let’s keep it that way.

    4. Finally, I would like to applaud the leadership in Lenox and Great Barrington, who are showing that local communities can be committed to ongoing investment in affordable housing while also supporting second homeowners and keeping tax rates reasonable. These communities I hope will continue to inspire the rest of us to support leaders who are willing to invest in family-friendly policies that keep year-round residents in our towns. I’d like to specifically single out the work you and the Lenox Planning Board are doing to champion this issue and take concrete steps to keep families in Lenox. Folks in Stockbridge who support similar policies wanted to confirm tax receipts were being paid to the correct jurisdiction. This desire has nothing to do with resentment toward Lenox. It was simply part of answering the question, how do we pay for it without resorting to higher tax rates?

    Thanks again for all of your hard work.

  6. Carl Stewart says:

    It is clear that Mr. Spaulding and Ms. Owens can not both be correct. To the uninformed reader…in this instance, me…Spaulding’s facts appear to be well-researched and, therefore, accurate. In this day of increasing accusations of “fake news,” it is particularly important for both journalists and their editors to be careful when they report facts.

  7. Kate Fletcher says:

    With regard to a “constant uninformed chorus from the town that nonprofits like Tanglewood should be paying massive property tax bills,” there is a committee looking at payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) for non-profits in Stockbridge. Had you spoken with a committee member, you might know that nothing “massive” is proposed right now beyond a questionnaire to non-profits.

    When Stockbridge town boards receive requests, regardless of who they are from, we work with our town bylaws to review those requests. In the case of the Linde Center, there were several requests that met the requirement for review under our bylaws. The process is hardly onerous and considerations include environmental and residential impacts as Tanglewood is entirely within a residential zone. Nat Karns, longtime director of Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, once told me that the most important aspect of special permit requests is for boards to do site visits so they really see what is involved. Stockbridge residents expect board members to take care with these requests so that the town qualities that they value or that attracted them to the town in the first place are preserved. Maintaining these qualities is also important to our main economic engine, our property values/taxes. I believe that BSO officials do appreciate that keeping Stockbridge beautiful is good for Tanglewood. As other parts of the county lose population, south county and other small attractive towns are more protected from the impacts of population loss by remaining attractive for those who are there and newcomers. If it looks like Paramus, NJ, why leave NJ to visit? Stockbridge has also managed to be the only town in the county meeting the state mandated 10% threshold for affordable housing (Williamstown may have caught up). It is possible that the rest of the county benefits much more from all the non-profits hosted by Stockbridge than Stockbridge itself as despite the comments in this article, our police, fire and highway departments are certainly involved; I don’t think I am hallucinating when I see our town fire truck on site for some of the big events at Tanglewood! Town roads are traveled by visitors entering town from Routes 7 and 102 and from Richmond and West Stockbridge and then traveling on other town roads like Route 183, Prospect Hill Road and Hawthorne Road to Tanglewood and other non-profits. As for angry residents, there is one, but what about the tone of your article? Perhaps if you spend some time at the Stockbridge Coffee Shop you will not only get a great cup of coffee but you will see another side of our town – community oriented, caring and yes, passionate about Stockbridge. Not a bad thing!

What's your opinion?

We welcome your comments and appreciate your respect for others. We kindly ask you to keep your comments as civil and focused as possible. If this is your first time leaving a comment on our website we will send you an email confirmation to validate your identity.