SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

December 4, 2012

Mayor vetoes tax break

Beverly: Scanlon officially rejects law; council can't respond for 10 days

BY PAUL LEIGHTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — For one of the rare times in his 17 years as mayor, Bill Scanlon exercised his veto power last night in Beverly City Council chambers.

Scanlon officially rejected a law unanimously passed by the council that would create a tax break for residential developments on Rantoul Street.

In a statement addressed to councilors, Scanlon said he agrees with the concept of a tax break but that the mayor should have the authority to negotiate the amount of the discount with developers.

“The legislation which you adopt will likely be in place for years and have impact on our city for decades,” Scanlon said. “Please do not take action to tie the hands of the executive branch ...”

The City Council voted two weeks ago to grant a discount on property taxes to developers in the hope of reviving a section of Rantoul Street near the train station. The council set the discount at a fixed 70 percent for the first five years and 30 percent for the next five years.

By setting a fixed discount, Scanlon said the council is relinquishing the city’s right to negotiate on such matters as higher-quality construction materials. He said it would be a “disservice” to the city and its citizens to give a larger tax break than necessary to a developer.

“Each of us knows that all projects are not created equal,” he said. “It is essential that the city has leverage in discussions with developers. These discussions are not always amicable.”

Under city rules, councilors are not allowed to debate the mayor’s veto for 10 days, so there was no discussion after Scanlon read his statement. Council President Paul Guanci said councilors will discuss the veto at its next meeting on Dec. 17. It would take a two-thirds vote of the council, or six votes, to override the mayor’s vote.

Ward 6 Councilor Brett Schetzsle has already said publicly that he will vote to overturn Scanlon’s veto. After the meeting, Schetzsle took to Twitter to say that he found the veto “baffling in its timing and reasoning.”

Scanlon said he would agree to a fixed discount for developers if the amount were set at 40 percent, not 70 percent. He said he would agree to the higher figure only if the law included the language “up to” or a “maximum” of 70 percent.

Scanlon said developments along Rantoul Street will be “dense” and that the city must consider their impacts on the schools, as well as on police and fire services. Those resources, he said, will change over time, so the city needs flexibility in assessing each project.

“We have worked together well, and I wish to continue to do so,” he told councilors. “I believe that everyone has done his or her best throughout the entire process. I am sure that we all seek the same goal, that is to adopt an ordinance which best serves Beverly.”

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