MEETING ON STONEHENGE PRODUCED SOME ANSWERS AND RAISED MORE QUESTIONS … LOSS OF TAX REVENUE A MAJOR ECONOMIC STORY
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
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(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, WEEKEND EDITION, MARCH 14-16 2014) — THE PLANET has received several inquiries from interested parties asking about what happened at the meeting Tuesday among Berkshire Family and Independent Resources (BFAIR) of North Adams, residents of Stonehenge Drive, and representatives.
As you may know — and you know it only because of the coverage provided by this website — BFAIR swooped in and signed a 30-year lease with the Corporation for Independent Living (CIL) of Hartford, Conn., to operate a group home at 71 Stonehenge Drive. From the transaction records, it appeared BFAIR signed its lease the same day CIL purchased the house from a couple, in mid-January. The sellers had about two years earlier purchased the single-family residence from Angelo Stracuzzi. The red flags began going up faster than a snow-cone melts in Death Valley.
As we have explored in previous stories, the transactions appear legal. However, they underscore a disturbing trend that’s happening in the city of Pittsfield: Too much once-taxable property is disappearing from the tax rolls because of the booming business in “non-profit” and “not-for-profit” companies. This has taken millions off the tax rolls.
Yesterday, THE PLANET made general reference to the meeting at BFAIR headquarters in the old Eagle building on Eagle Street. After hearing from sources, we have more. We can report the following:
* Attendees included B-FAIR executives, Ward 4 councilor Chris Connell, and Pittsfield state rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier.
* Eighteen residents of Stonehenge Drive showed up, according to one source. That’s an impressive number, given that Stonehenge has 16 residences — 15 if you don’t count the future group home at #71.
* We heard through sources that BFAIR was expecting six residents to show up. They got triple that number.
* One account of the meeting called the company’s stance “defensive.” For example, when asked why BFAIR had chosen 71 Stonehenge out of all the properties in the city, the answer was that federal and state law allow them to. In other words, the company appeared vague and evasive. If that’s true, one has to ask why? Why not answer in a straightforward and specific manner? Why not say, “We selected 71 Stonehenge because of A, B, and C.”
As one resident put it, “If they can’t tell us straight out why [they selected 71 Stonehenge], then it makes the whole thing look suspicious. It also raises a lot of other questions in my mind.”
Connell had this to say about the meeting, “I think the residents felt some concerns were [adequately] addressed, but the questions in regards to resale value and questions in regards to the future after the contract expires remain. In other words, some residents felt better about the situation than they did before the meeting and some did not.”
Farley-Bouvier said there was “no legislative action available” to keep the home from Stonehenge. “I think the Stonehenge neighbors came away from the meeting with many of their questions answered and, on one level, are satisfied with the immediate future of who their new neighbors will be. It would not be accurate, however, to say that they all are satisfied. Many expressed frustration over the process over the lack of prior notification. Others are very concerned about resale value. And a few did express that they felt more comfortable after learning the facts, though they did so quietly afterwards.”
She said, “It is important to note that BFAIR works with individuals with autism, brain injuries, and developmental disabilities. They do not work with people suffering from addiction or have primary mental illness.” She also shared some personal experience: “I understand their concerns. I had a similar situation in the neighborhood I previously lived in. After initial concern, all the same concerns these neighbors have, all turned out well. That home is fully, yet quietly, part of the fabric of the street. When my family outgrew our home there, we sold it at a profit.”
At the meeting, BFAIR pledged to residents that they “would be good neighbors.” They gave their phone number in case of questions or concerns.
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THE PLANET Unearths Answers
THE PLANET has inquired more extensively, and we have learned from a reliable source the following:
* Why #71? — BFAIR says it chose 71 Stonehenge because of the size, four bedrooms; that is has a level lot, and that is is a single-level home. BFAIR has claimed that there were only two homes on the market in Pittsfield that met these criteria: 71 Stonehenge and a home on West Street. It apparently rejected the West Street home because the condition wasn’t as good as the home on Stonehenge.
* Renovation — One source tells is “the house is being extensively renovated to make it fully handicapped accessible, including two full baths.”
* Who Will be Living There? — According to sources, the group home will house four women with traumatic brain injuries. The women are all current Pittsfield residents living in nursing homes. Each will have a separate bedroom. There will be “a minimum” of two staffers on site 24/7.
* Contract — BFAIR’s initial contract to operate this home will be for nine years beginning in May. That’s the contract Connell referred to in his comments to THE PLANET, above.
Another commentator yesterday asked why The Boring Broadsheet hasn’t done anything on this story? The simple answer is that we cannot speak for the editorial decisions of The BB. It does seem odd that a daily newspaper would shy away from what is obviously a major economic story — though not a happy one — for the city. Could that be it? The loss of millions of dollars in taxes doesn’t line up with the “All is Fine and Dandy” approach The BB takes in its “coverage” of the city. Is it something else?
One more observation: THE PLANET commends councilor Connell for the hard work he’s put in representing his constituents in the matter of 71 Stonehenge in this “corporate takeover” from a North Adams non-profit. The deal appears legal and above board, and there’s little he could do to stop the group home from moving in there. Connell appears to have done what he can, which is to serve as a conduit to providing information to residents, organizing the Tuesday meeting, for example. The larger question for him and his council colleagues centers on the economic implications this tsunami of non-profits have had, are having, and will have on Pittsfield.
‘Non-Profits’ Rob City of Tax Revenue, $$ That Bianchi Intends to Place on Backs of Homeowners and Small Businesses
One final point to add is that in our calculations of the financial impact 46 group homes have, we were conservative — perhaps too conservative. THE PLANET figures an assessed value of $150,000 for each property. The average assessment in the city is above $170,000. Many of the properties are worth much more. Moreover, for a tax rate, we figured a mix between residential and commercial, but the companies that are moving into Pittsfield are commercial enterprises, albeit “non-profit.” It would therefore be more accurate to apply the commercial tax rate.
Thus, an average assessment of $250,o00 at the commercial tax rate of $35.17 yields $8,793. Multiply that by 46 group homes and you get $404,455 in lost taxes. Now take a depreciation for each of those properties of 12%. Total valuation is $11.5 million. You’re out another $1,380,000. For each year, the city loses approximately $1,784,455. In 10 years, the city loses nearly $18 million in taxes. Mayor Dan Biachi will call upon Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski plus the small business owners who are handing on by a thread to make up the difference.
Meanwhile, city “leaders” — in this order of complicity: the mayor, city council, superintendent of schools, and the school committee — keep inflating the city budget. You want to know who makes up the difference?
Bottom line is where the buck stops, and since the days of Harry Truman, We The People have learned it stops with the CEO. In Pittsfield, unfortunately, that would be Bianchi. He’s the one who will submit the overall city budget. He will plug in a number for the schools, based on what the superintendent and the school committee send to him. Keep in mind that Bianchi is under no obligation to accept the school’s number. He could throw it back and tell Jake and the Bunch to sharpen the pencils and tighten the belts.
Of course, he won’t.
Nice to dream, ain’t it?
Have a great weekend, everybody!
Sometimes I wonder why I spend
The lonely nights dreaming of a song
The melody haunts my reverie
And I am once again with you
When our love was new
And each kiss an inspiration
Ah but that was long ago
Now my consolation is in the stardust of a song — Hoagy Carmichael, “Stardust.”
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.