SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

October 10, 2012

Council considers scope of tax breaks

BY PAUL LEIGHTON STAFF WRITER
The Salem News

---- — BEVERLY — City councilors last night talked about offering developers on Rantoul Street a tax break of up to 100 percent for the first five years of a project under a rarely used incentive program they are considering.

The state’s Urban Center Housing and Tax Increment Financing Program allows communities to give tax breaks, known as TIFs, for residential developments in an effort to revitalize downtown areas.

Beverly would be only the third community in the state, behind Quincy and Easton, to adopt the program.

“The general consensus is that we should move forward on a TIF,” Councilor Don Martin said. “The question is how much money and how many years.”

Mayor Bill Scanlon suggested in a letter to councilors that the tax break cover 20 years and start at 40 percent, with a 2 percent reduction each year. The break would apply only to taxes paid on improvements to a property.

But Thomas Miller, a consultant for Beverly Main Streets, said 40 percent might not be enough of an incentive to attract developers.

“We have to maximize as much as we can in the first five to 10 years,” he said. “When you decrease the percentage, it makes it harder to make the proposal work.”

Councilor Maureen Troubetaris said she prefers the tax incentives be awarded over a time frame of 10 or 12 years.

“I could never agree to 20 years,” she said.

City Council President Paul Guanci, who has publicly endorsed the tax incentive program, suggested an incentive similar to the one the city gave the Cummings Center to redevelop the former United Shoe property.

Cummings’ tax break covered 10 years, with a 100 percent tax break on improvements for the first five years and 50 percent for the next five years.

“Most people think it worked out in favor of the city,” Guanci said.

Guanci asked Miller if he could look at how a Cummings-like tax incentive would work for Rantoul Street and report back to the City Council.

Councilors also talked about whether they could offer developers incentive to preserve historic properties along Rantoul Street.

Bill Finch, chairman of the Beverly Historic District Commission, said there are six or seven historically significant properties in the proposed tax incentive district, including the post office and the train depot, which are on the National Register of Historic Places.

“It may seem silly to worry about the post office, but the (U.S. Postal Service) has surplused property,” Finch said. “It’s not out of the realm of possibility we may be dealing with that at some point in time.”

Councilor Scott Houseman said that he is in the process of writing an order that will offer incentives for preserving historic buildings.

“There’s already going to be an incentive (if the tax break plan passes) to tear down what’s there,” he said. “I think it can be done in a way that satisfies all concerned.”

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.