SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

December 18, 2012

Beverly mayor’s veto of tax-break law stands

By Jonathan Phelps
Staff writer

---- — BEVERLY — City councilors last night stood by Mayor Bill Scanlon’s veto of a law unanimously passed by the council last month that would create a tax break for residential developments on Rantoul Street.

While the vote to override Scanlon’s veto received a 5-4 majority vote, the motion failed to achieve the required two-thirds vote, or six votes.

Councilors Donald Martin, Brett Schetzsle, James Latter, Jason Silva and Scott Dullea supported overriding the mayor’s veto.

After the vote, councilors agreed they support the tax break but debated on how to move forward with the proposal. In the end, they decided to have further discussions with the Finance and Property Committee before the matter makes its way back to the full council.

“We just have to figure out a plan that benefits the city and serves as an incentive to potential developers who want to invest in the district,” City Council President Paul Guanci said after the meeting.

The council voted at the end of last month to grant a discount on property taxes to developers in hopes 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.

During the Dec. 3 council meeting, Scanlon 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.

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.

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.

Scanlon was not present at last night’s meeting.

After last night’s override vote failed, Silva made a motion to amend the language of the deal to address the mayor’s concerns and move the proposal forward. “I don’t understand what the hesitancy is after six months of discussion over this,” he said.

The motion failed 7-3.

Ward 4 Councilor Scott Housman said he has drafted a motion that would include criteria for the mayor’s decision to grant such tax exemptions.

While Martin voted in favor of the override, he supported waiting on making a final decision on the proposal.

“We all have to get on the same page here,” he said. “This hasn’t been our finest hours by a long shot … let’s not rush this.”

Ward 1 Councilor Maureen Troubetaris supported the mayor’s veto.

“I feel that it is very important for (the mayor) to have that negotiating ability,” she said. “Without it our citizens are going by the wayside. I mean we have an obligation to the citizens of Beverly first and without knowing the impact (of developments) we are losing our powers.”

Dullea disagreed, saying it is the council’s responsibility for coming up with legislation for the city. He said there will be many problems with having the mayor negotiate deals.

“It interjects politics into this where politics have no place,” he said. “We can avoid the appearance of improprieties or actual improprieties, which is the worst of all. All we have to do is send the message that in Beverly you know the rules you have to play by and the field is equal for everybody.”

Scanlon has previously 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.