SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

November 28, 2012

Scanlon to veto new tax breaks

Beverly: Mayor 'in favor of the concept' but wants more discretion

BY PAUL LEIGHTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — Beverly Mayor Bill Scanlon said yesterday that he will veto the tax break law passed by the City Council last week but still supports the overall concept of the plan.

Calling it a “friendly veto,” Scanlon said he wants the law changed to give the mayor more discretion in deciding the size of the tax breaks that a developer would receive from the city.

“We’re just trying to get this legislation as good as it can be,” he said. “It’s important for people to understand that I’m very much in favor of the concept.”

The law, passed unanimously by the City Council, would give developers along a certain stretch of Rantoul Street a 70 percent tax break on residential developments for the first five years and 30 percent for the next five years.

Scanlon said he agrees with the concept of tax incentives to spur development but says the mayor should have the authority to offer a lower percentage depending on the project. He would like the council to add language that says a developer could get a tax break of “up to” or a “maximum” of 70 percent.

Scanlon said he wants that option because “not all projects are created equal.”

“If you give too great a percentage tax reduction, and it’s automatic and you have no control over it, we might wind up with a substandard project,” he said.

The veto took some councilors by surprise. In his 17 years as mayor, Scanlon has rarely vetoed legislation passed by the council. Scanlon said he has used his veto power at least once, but he could not remember the issue.

“I’m almost shocked that he’s doing it,” Ward 5 Councilor Don Martin said. “I’ve served with him now for 17 years, and I can never remember him vetoing one thing.”

Ward 1 Councilor Maureen Troubetaris said Scanlon should have been in council chambers last week when councilors debated the final details of the tax incentive. Over five months of discussion, councilors took much of their advice from Tom Miller, a consultant hired by Beverly Main Streets to help get the legislation passed.

“I think the mayor should be answering a lot of these questions,” Troubetaris said. “It appeared too much was being asked of Mr. Miller. He’s not running our budget.”

Troubetaris said she agrees that the mayor should have more flexibility, but she said Scanlon should have been at more of the meetings when councilors were debating those points.

Scanlon acknowledged that he was not there when councilors were voting, but said he had told many of them that he wanted the discretionary language included.

“I had indicated that’s what I wanted, and they had that before them,” he said. “Maybe they went just a little bit too fast.”

Council President Paul Guanci said he raised the subject of giving the mayor discretion in setting the terms, “but it didn’t seem like a majority of the council favored that, so I backed off of that.”

Scanlon said he will veto the law at the next City Council meeting on Monday. Councilors cannot act on the veto for 10 days, Guanci said. It would take a two-thirds vote of the council to overturn the veto.

Guanci said he does not think the council will override Scanlon’s veto. Troubetaris said she wasn’t sure.

“There’s a little bit of anger there,” Troubetaris said. “(Councilors) felt they went through this quite thoroughly. You can’t say this was some rush job. We went through this for weeks.”

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