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December 8, 2012

Amesbury councilors want mayor to reduce residents' taxes

Special meeting planned for Monday

AMESBURY — The Amesbury City Council has called a special meeting this Monday night to discuss using the city’s “free cash” to reduce the tax rate on the eve of the annual tax classification hearing.

Last week, the city announced that next year’s tax rate would be increasing by $1.11 from $19.13 to $20.24, mainly as a result of diminishing home values. The announcement was met with a public outcry and prompted immediate demands for meaningful tax relief measures.

In response, several city councilors have come out in favor using the city’s free cash, or unspent tax money from the past year, to drive the tax rate down below the $20 threshold.

However, the council’s plan may be a moot point. Mayor Thatcher Kezer is opposed to such a move, saying it would amount to “poor financial planning.” The council does not have the power to overturn the mayor’s decision.

The special meeting will be held at the Ordway Building at 9 School Street at 7 p.m., and it appears a majority of the nine-member council is in favor of the resolution. Councilors Robert Gilday, Bob Lavoie, Christian Scorzoni and Derek Kimball all signed off on the special meeting request, and councilor Jim Kelcourse indicated that he supports the free cash proposal as well.

Gilday also wrote a letter to the mayor strongly urging that he direct a portion of the city’s free cash budget to help offset the expected increase, recommending that the city contribute enough free cash to reduce the rate to $19.99. According to city tax documents, it would take $443,731, which is a little more than a third of Amesbury’s free cash, to accomplish this.

Kezer has come out strongly against the idea of using free cash to offset tax increases, saying that using reserves to supplement the operating budget lends to long-term structural instability, which could hurt the city’s bond rating.

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