, Salem, MA

December 3, 2012

Letter: Council should overturn Beverly mayor's veto

The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

The editorial appearing in Friday’s Salem News is right when it said that unneeded drama has been created by Mayor Bill Scanlon’s decision to veto the Rantoul Street Residential Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District terms passed unanimously by the Beverly City Council.

The editorial is even more right when it said that the mayor’s action is a slap in the face of the council.

However, its recommendation that the council let the veto stand is wrong.

The City Council should overturn the mayor’s veto and insist that terms for the Residential TIF in the Rantoul Street district be set at a uniform level, with this mayor or future mayors having the ability to negotiate more generous terms than the standard only with final approval from the council. The latter would provide the flexibility sought by the mayor, and this framework has been a cornerstone of the proposal from its outset in order to eliminate the potential for favoritism — real or perceived.

The insistence that the TIF be structured in this way stems from the differences between the commercial TIFs previously utilized by the city, where flexibility in negotiation of the terms is important and necessary, and this specific residential TIF program.

The fundamental difference is that commercial TIFs are first negotiated by the mayor and then approved by the council. The council retains a position of oversight and can evaluate the agreement reached, the assumptions and process used to reach it, and serve as a safeguard against “sweetheart” deals.

That would not be the case with the Rantoul Street TIF program if the council includes the “up to” language sought by the mayor. This language was considered and rejected by the council for good reason.

Such a change would give this mayor or future mayors the ability to negotiate the TIF deals associated with the district with no criteria stated in advance to determine what level of incentive is given to a project and why. It would also eliminate the council from serving in an important oversight role.

This change would effectively sanction backroom negotiations and certainly result in an even-greater level of suspicion among citizens and developers who may receive less favorable terms than others in the ability for certain developers to use “inside” connections to their benefit. This paper has already written extensively about those who are initially positioned to benefit from the zoning changes and TIF district creation on Rantoul Street, the relationships of those working on their behalf and the appearance it creates. Citizens in public hearings held on this subject and in private communication have also expressed similar concerns.

There is no question that anticipation of this dynamic is the reason the mayor and the proponents of the proposal stressed the importance of avoiding the potential for favoritism. At no point prior to the passage of the agreement last Monday did the mayor communicate a change in this very clear position in any meaningful way. Nothing has changed to eliminate the concerns that prompted it in the first place.

There is also no question that setting equal incentive terms for projects within the district made the proposal more acceptable for me and other councilors with whom I have spoken and, ultimately, allowed for the unanimous passage of the terms.

(Due to a family obligation, I was unable to attend last Monday’s meeting, but I followed the meeting online with BevCam and notified my colleagues in advance and in writing of my intent to support the initiative. I would have voted in favor of the final order that was presented for passage.)

I am proud of the work done by the council to thoroughly examine this issue and its implications and create an incentive package intended to help redevelopment in that area, provide for new growth to increase our tax base, but also ensures that incentives will be applied in a manner in which citizens and all those seeking to develop in the area can be confident. It should stand as a great example of collaboration between the council, the administration and those in the private sector working to improve an area of Beverly badly in need of a makeover.

The mayor’s action has put that collaboration in serious jeopardy.

I will vote to overturn the mayor’s veto when it is brought before the council for consideration, and I strongly encourage my colleagues to do the same.

Brett Schetzsle

Ward 6 councilor