Article

RECENT SALE OF 71 STONEHENGE FOR GROUP HOME REVEALS UNDERBELLY OF A HUGE ECONOMIC PROBLEM FOR PITTSFIELD … MEANWHILE, CITY ‘LEADERS’ LOOK ON HELPLESSLY

By DAN VALENTI

PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, THURSDAY, MARCH 13, 2014) — When THE PLANET exposed what was done in the secrecy of proverbial midnight, under the shadow of the piers — no scorning suspensions, no shining in the sun — at 71 Stonehenge Road, we ignited a firestorm of protest and debate. In the end, it will likely signify nothing, since it appears that a group home will be placed in the middle of this upscale residential area in a home that was, only three or so years ago, home of  (“Tell ‘em”) Angelo (“Sent You”) Stracuzzi.

That would certainly seem the be the case after a meeting a couple nights ago at BFAIR headquarters in the old Eagle building. Stonehenge residents, BFAIR execs, and several politicians gathered. From what we hear, no fears were assuaged but there was a lot of political Parcheesi played, accent on the “cheesi.” Many riddles, much political use of language, which, as George Orwell wrote more than 60 years ago, tries to make murder respectable and the pure wind seem solid.

71 Stonehenge Drive: Dumpster at the ready. (PLANET photo by Dave Bubriski)

Subsequent investigation revealed that Pittsfield has 46 group homes (counting Stonehenge) — not an official count but one that is probably accurate. This doesn’t include a seemingly endless line of non-profit and not-for-profit companies. This sad fact splits into two lugubrious tributaries, one a statement and the other a line of thought. The first is the serious loss of tax revenue as once tax-producing properties get taken off the tax rolls. The second is why Pittsfield has vast numbers of such properties?

Group residencies come in a variety of forms. Arrangements include half-way houses, campus-based homes, emergency-type shelters, self-contained settings, staff-secured settings. These homes are used in a number of social settings such as child welfare, mental health, juvenile justice, domestic-abuse situations, and others.

Such homes can be run responsibly with little impact. However, the opposite not only can but does happen. This story by Rudy Miller of the LeHigh Valley Express-Times shows what it can look like when one of these homes “derails:

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Problems with group homes have been cropping up for years, and they’re not going anywhere, according to the Colonial Regional police chief.

Chief Roy Seiple urges residents not to wait until after the fact to call police with concerns. Police need to witness problems in order to take action, he said.

“When stuff happens, they need to call us right away,” Seiple said.

Residents sounded off at recent township supervisors meetings about noise, profanity, alcohol use by staff and too many cars parked at a group home for two autistic men at 4504 Stephanie Drive in Lower Nazareth Township.

Residents may not realize it, but there are probably about 15 group homes in Colonial Regional’s coverage area, Seiple said. The police force covers Lower Nazareth Township, Hanover Township and Bath.

Seiple doesn’t know the exact number because the owners aren’t required to register them.

Staff at some homes in recent years have identified the residents to police as sex offenders. One group home resident broke all his home’s windows. Another resident frequently attacks the staff at a group home in the 6000 block of Hanoverville Road.

“We wrestle with this guy all the time,” Seiple said.

Seiple recognizes the group homes have a legal right to operate in the township. He just wishes the owners would notify police when the homes open, so his staff can be prepared to respond when trouble crops up.

“There are over 15 homes in our jurisdiction and we don’t know where they are,” Seiple said. “They don’t notify us where they are until there is a problem.”

Police can better respond to incidents if they know beforehand that someone has mental health issues or violent tendencies, the chief said.

Resources for Human Development owns the Stephanie Drive home. Company spokesman Kevin Roberts declined comment.

Seiple said police have been called to the Stephanie Drive home six times in the past three weeks for individuals swearing in the presence of children, driving over a neighbor’s septic mound, speeding, setting off fireworks and blowing grass clippings on a neighbor’s property.

All the calls came after the incidents had ended, he said.

“We have no way of knowing whether these things did occur,” Seiple said.

He said he spoke to management at the home on April 30 and May 10.

“They assured us (the problems) would be taken care of,” he said.

Seiple can sympathize with the residents. His officers often deal with group home-related issues. He recalls one time his officers had to track down a man who walked away from a group home.

“We handle everybody else’s problems,” he said. “When it gets to us, nobody can handle it and we have to handle it.”

When a group home resident assaults a staff member, the assault ultimately may not be considered a crime due to the competency of the attacker. Either way, police resources are directed to the matter, Seiple said.

“I don’t like putting our guys in harms way,” Seiple said. “It’s a no win situation for us. Anything we do, we’re the bad guy here.”

His officers often have to ride in the ambulance when someone is committed to a psychiatric facility and fill out commitment paperwork.

“They’re utilizing our services all the time,” Seiple said. “When we have to go there, that distracts from our ability to serve other residents.”

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The story has bearing on Pittsfield. Are there or are there not requirements that the city and neighborhood residents be informed in advance if a group home is moving into a locale? What does the law say? Will one or more of our Right Honorable Good Friends on the city council, as the city’s lawmakers, of the mayor, as the city’s chief executive, please settle this question. We won’t hold our breath.

As for the 46 homes reportedly in place already, is that an accurate number? Could there be more than that? Also, how sacred are zoning regulations and the understandings they assume between city and property owner if a non-profit can breeze in and legally break the law? What of equal protection under the law?

These questions feed into a huge question economically because of the staggering loss of tax revenue. Every time a non-profit moves in:

(a) the property’s assessed value is taken off the tax roles.

(b) the assessed values are affected — in the negative, it would appear, in the majority of cases.

Let’s run some hypothetical numbers. To be conservative, let’s give the assessed value of the 46 group homes in Pittsfield $150,000. The house at 71 Stonehenge weighed in at $371,000. We won’t include any of the other multitudes of not-for-profits that have drawn down the city economically, just the group homes.

Forty-six times $150,000 is an assessed value of $6,900,000. Pittsfield’s residential tax rate is $17.15 per thousand and $35.17 for commercial, industrial, and personal property. Let’s assume that the 46 homes are in a mix of residential and commercial zones. That yields an average lost assessment of $26.16 per thousand. That yields lost taxes of $180,504 per year. For the lost of valuation, an assumed 10% would yield $690,000 a year.

Thus, our rough calculation yields an annual loss in tax revenues stemming from group homes to be about $870,000 per year. In a decade, the city loses $8.7 million. The numbers are probably higher, likely topping $10 million.

It’s not a pretty picture, and remember, this figure is just for group homes. It doesn’t include all of the non-profits that operate in the city. This is occurring when the rest of the tax base is shrinking and the mayor shall be calling for more tax dollars because he’s so intent on keeping the gravy train going for a select few. Want names? Start with the Pittsfield School Department.

The question is why so many group homes? The answer appears to be in the “fine print” for all or most of the state grant money the city has received over the past two decades.  In return for grant money —which is YOUR MONEY IN THE FIRST PLACE the Commonwealth receives through taxation — the state forces Pittsfield to take the refuse, driftwood, and riff-raff from other communities.

That’s the deal the city’s “leaders” have made in your name, Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer.

Our final question is this: How will it end for Pittsfield? With a bang, with citizens storming back and taking over the reigns of government, or with a whimper, with the population aging out and moving away, until the once-proud county seat of the famous, fabulous Berkshires goes belly up?

You tell us.

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(THE THREE STOOGES PLAYING CARDS) LARRY (TO MOE): I’ll take two. MOE: You can’t have two, but I’ll give you five. (SLAP!)

“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”

LOVE TO ALL.

 

34 Responses to “RECENT SALE OF 71 STONEHENGE FOR GROUP HOME REVEALS UNDERBELLY OF A HUGE ECONOMIC PROBLEM FOR PITTSFIELD … MEANWHILE, CITY ‘LEADERS’ LOOK ON HELPLESSLY”

  1. Jonathan Melle
    March 12, 2014 at 8:35 pm #

    I can’t understand Pittsfield politics! Everything is controlled by a local oligarchy that likes to spend money on city government, public schools, and social services. Most young adults leave Pittsfield. Most elderly pass away over time. Who will pay the bills for Pittsfield politics’ high finances?
    I believe that if I lived anywhere but Pittsfield as a young adult, I would have done better for myself in my life. Over a decade ago, I looked for a job in Pittsfield for over one year of my adult life, and no one offered me employment in Pittsfield.
    Why did I bother to look for work in Pittsfield? It was a futile effort!
    I am happy I moved away from Pittsfield a decade ago. I believe that Pittsfield has gotten worse since I moved away.

    • B
      March 12, 2014 at 10:24 pm #

      Jonathan, you are starting to sound like a broken record. If you are happy since you moved away from Pittsfied over a decade ago then why are you keeping such close tabs on Our City? It sounds like you are using this blog as a sounding board about your life. To me it seems that you’re still a very angry man about your life here in Pittsfield. Move on and let the past be the past, if you don’t read about what’s going on in Pittsfield you will let go of your angry past. Move on Jonathan move on, it’s time to leave Pittsfield for good get it out of your mind. Good luck to you and I hope you find peace.

      • Jonathan Melle
        March 13, 2014 at 9:19 am #

        Thank you for your feedback and thoughts. I wish Pittsfield would change for the better. I always felt that those who run things in Pittsfield know better, but they choose to keep things negative and bad. When I read Dan Valenti’s blog every weekday, I read about local residents not being able to support themselves and relying on social services, which they pay for with high taxes that go to special interests. I read about crime, violence, broken homes, drugs, welfare, and a loss of hope. I cite my own negative experiences in Pittsfield because I was a young adult who once believed in Pittsfield. I thought I could find a job and invest in the community I grew up in. I was wrong. My efforts were futile. Pittsfield made up its mind about me. I was a loser to be jobless and bullied. Many young adults move away from Pittsfield. Since Jimmy Ruberto was Mayor a decade ago, thousands of people have moved away from Pittsfield. It is all about power in Pittsfield. You have to be part of the Good Old Boy network, related to the right family, and kiss the behinds of people who would be nothing if they lived anywhere but Pittsfield.

    • Pothole
      March 13, 2014 at 6:39 am #

      I personally think that this should be allowed but I strongly believe that property paxes should be collected from all non-profits that have the ability to purchase a property. The administration of the nonprofit should have to budget for the tax. They get city plowing, city water, city road paving, plus the security of the city police and fire department. The property tax base in the city should not be lessened by the decision for the entity to move or open in Pittsfield. The tax burden just gets shifted to the rest of us and I am going to go out on a limb here but I’ll bet that the administration of the firms’ paychecks are more than the average citizen in Pittsfield who are paying extra.
      The non-profits should be considered for tax incentives just as any new business is. If the new business, for profit or non, will bring in a certain number of qualified jobs and they meet the requirements of the administration, then they deserve the same consideration. Time to re visit this ordinance.

      • B
        March 13, 2014 at 3:59 pm #

        I agree with you that nonprofits should be paying the city of Pittsfield for taxes, the city of Pittsfield doesn’t make a profit, I bet we go in the whole every year. If the nonprofit paid even at a discounted tax rate it’s better than nothing. We should all be talking to our City Councilman to ask them about a change, I know that I will asking mine to look into it.

      • Shakes His Head
        March 14, 2014 at 6:31 am #

        Non-Profits like Berkshire Health Systems?

    • #nomorebianchi
      March 13, 2014 at 3:16 pm #

      It’s gotten better. We don’t have to listen to you on the radio anymore. Are you saying that if the elderly live anywhere else they won’t die? Everyone dies at some point dude and no matter where you live you will one day die too

  2. Pat
    March 13, 2014 at 4:06 am #

    I think people don’t understand that Jonathan was obviously traumatized by his time spent in Pittsfield. This can be a not so friendly place to live when people choose for whatever reason to give you the cold shoulder as obviously happened with Jonathan.

    As for Pittsfield finding its way back to being a proud, prosperous and friendly city for everyone and not for the favored few, that remains to be seen. The way things are going, however, I would have to say that things do not look promising. Too many jobs in the area revolve around social service agencies and retail jobs which even with a minimum wage increase will not be enough to make much of a difference at this point.

    The people who are happy with the status quo are the ones who are voting and since so few people in the area vote, that’s all it takes to keep in the elected officials that continue to answer to the needs of the few and not the many. Crime continues to rise and in general the quality of life continues to go down. I really want to be hopeful as I am a very hopeful person by nature, but sometimes the facts are just the facts and you have to look at reality.

    • B
      March 13, 2014 at 9:54 am #

      Jonathan, I agree with most of what you said. I think the decline of Pittsfield started with Mayor Doyle and yes he is part of the good old boys network. GE caused most of the decline cutbacks and more cutbacks and then finally selling out GE plastics that was the start of the major killer of Pittsfield. It seems to me that you would be very good as an investigating reporter; why don’t you open up a blog about a different city and start investigating how that city is declining and take pride in what you can contribute to that city. Good luck friend and I hope that you find peace.

    • B
      March 13, 2014 at 10:23 am #

      Pat, what we need is a new set of City Councilman, out with the old and in with the new. We should be taking a good look at the councilman that we have now, get rid of the ones that are not trying to save us money and and who are not suggesting ways of bringing in real companies to Pittsfield. It is much easier to run as a ward counselor then it is at large. What we have now is a majority of cookie-cutter councilmen who were baked up to serve the mayor. If everyone who reads Dan’s blog were to think of the people that they know in their own ward and who would make a good councilman then maybe we could change things. Now go find these people and get them elected, make sure that they have a voice and they are willing to go against the mayor when needed. We need a new majority on the council to make changes, to save us money and stand up for the rest of the city and not the select few. And while we are at it let us start looking for someone to run against the mayor for next term. Let us find them, group them, and get them all on the same page. That page should be not to waste what precious little money we have and to bring in new business.

      • DowagerHat
        March 13, 2014 at 1:30 pm #

        B,

        Easier said than done. What this City needs is a revolution, or at least the beginnings of one, shaking up the GOB’s and then some.

        • B
          March 13, 2014 at 4:00 pm #

          You start it, I’ll follow.

  3. Spider
    March 13, 2014 at 6:52 am #

    This is changing the subject, somewhat. But while reading the story about Jeff Winslow’s (recently deceased businessman) store on North Street, I learned that above his store are 39 “subsidized” units. Didn’t know that.

    Unfortunately subsidized housing often brings “problems”. I was wondering how long they have been there and how that is working out.

    • dusty
      March 13, 2014 at 12:30 pm #

      And does anyone know if the new Hotel on North st will be getting tax breaks from the city of Pittsfield? Cuz I am really not into subsidizing another millionaires business venture.

      • DowagerHat
        March 13, 2014 at 1:25 pm #

        Dusty, Let’s hope not, however, the millions that they are predicting that it will cost does not make any sense. The only real tourism is Tanglewood. Also, a side note not only does Pittsfield have more than its share of group homes this City has for lack of a better word, 16 housing projects. Granted I have counted in senior housing but to the best of my knowledge all of these housing projects are government subsidized.

        • Spider
          March 13, 2014 at 2:30 pm #

          Let’s face it. Group homes and subsidized housing are a detriment to any city. Pittsfield is slowly becoming a dumping ground.

          • GeoSims
            March 13, 2014 at 5:12 pm #

            Slowly?

      • ed shepardson
        March 13, 2014 at 2:40 pm #

        “Financial officer David Tierney said some of the cost is hoped to be financed through historic renovation tax credits.”

        • dusty
          March 13, 2014 at 3:14 pm #

          Is that the one of the deals Stanley got for his Beacon movie theater?

        • DowagerHat
          March 13, 2014 at 3:49 pm #

          ed.

          Larry Rosenthal and Joyce Berinstein were given an 18 years economic tax break on this building, maybe you will remember Spice and Link to Life. The usual tax breaks for economic development are only 5 or 10 years. This was done under the Doyle administration. This building has not been historically renovated. I am all for a Boutique Hotel in the City, however, if anyone is paying attention, The Thaddeus Clapp House on Wendell Avenue went under, and the White Horse Inn, although lovely, is not overflowing with guests. Both of these inns are considered Boutique. If the Boutique Hotel on North is investing their own monies i have no problem with that . A good business investment Upstreet is positive for the City.

    • Gene
      March 13, 2014 at 5:18 pm #

      Thats part of this story too in a way. Thats one of the points DV is making I think. Nonprofits, Sec. 8, all the giveaways to lowlifes and deadbeats. It brings problems as you say, also a coming financial meltdown.

  4. amandaWell
    March 13, 2014 at 12:11 pm #

    Mr. Valenti, a little while ago, you wanted us to do a worst Pothole in the City, lookseek, as II was driving yesterday at the corner of Onoto and Pecks is what I believe to be the worst I’ve seen. if you guys hit it, you will know it!

    • #nomorebianchi
      March 13, 2014 at 3:26 pm #

      Hubbard ave just past the overpass. Right infront of UPS. There are 3 in a row

  5. Gene
    March 13, 2014 at 2:25 pm #

    Good followup to Stonhenge story, Dan. Two question I have 1. What happened at the B-Fair meeting and 2. why hasn’t the bb covered this?

  6. Scott
    March 13, 2014 at 4:26 pm #

    It was a handicapped person who was assaulted the other day on south st. Trying to defuse a violent situation while able bodied people stood by and watched. I’m wondering if some people still lock their car doors when they see a black man.

  7. Scott
    March 13, 2014 at 5:12 pm #

    “They’re utilizing our services all the time,” Seiple said. “When we have to go there, that distracts from our ability to serve other residents.”

    Ummm hello that’s your job police in fact need more training to deal with the mentally ill. BFAIR houses mentally disabled people I have from a reliable source. “Retarded” people not disabled perverts, druggies and drunks. Yes handicapped people can be dangerous (Warren from “something about Mary comes to mind”) but your chances of being victimized by a drug crazed rapist thief are greater. Perception, “true victory is victory over oneself” master your own body and mind and everything around you will be less threatening.

  8. Giacometti
    March 13, 2014 at 6:34 pm #

    Good jobs in the present as well as the future require higher education…that is why places like Albany. N.Y. is on the rise
    and Rte 128…and Silicon Valley…it’s all centered around people with advanced degrees and those who say Pittsfield is falling behind must understand it is because we do not have an educated workforce. Plain and Simple..if you didn’t go to college you will only have a service industry job the rest of your life.
    Education is the answer. It’s an investment in yourself.

    • Pat
      March 13, 2014 at 7:50 pm #

      Education is the key. I agree. So why isn’t more money put toward training and education rather than putting all the money into uemployment and food stamps?

      In addition, not every young person is qualifed to be a computer whiz. There will always be the need for vocational training and I see little money put toward those who can’t afford that kind of education. Older workers should also be given the opportunity to improve their skills otherwise should we tell all adults over 45 years old that if they lose their current job, they will be on public assistance for the rest of their lives? Government would then be supporting these people which it can’t afford to do. Older people have 15 to 20 years left of work and cannot be left out simply because business only wants young computer geniuses. So an investment in training the older worker is something that is needed, but is not being addressed by anyone including our government.

      • danvalenti
        March 14, 2014 at 2:36 pm #

        Actually, learning a trade is probably the best career option for many if not most young people. Government and public education talks a lot about “educating tomorrow’s workforce” but they do little about it in Pittsfield. They believe in slogans, not action.

    • Pat
      March 13, 2014 at 7:52 pm #

      In addition I also know many people with degrees who cannot find work in this area and in other areas of the country.

    • Scott
      March 14, 2014 at 3:55 am #

      Right but silicone Vally and Albany still need trash clever ore, plumbers, carpenters a person to bag groceries. Education is key for sure but not everyone can be at the top. Too many chiefs and not enough Indians.

  9. Pat
    March 13, 2014 at 8:13 pm #

    One of the main reasons the minimum wage is being raised in Massachusetts is because more and more adults who lost their jobs in higher paying fields are now being forced to work in retail type jobs because this is all they can find. Many of these people have four year degrees. So it’s not the 16 or 18 year old kid working these retail jobs anymore, but now it’s an adult supporting a family.

  10. GMHeller
    March 14, 2014 at 8:57 am #

    Mr. Valenti,
    Pittsfield would appear to be in a continuing period of economic decay.
    Further, according to figures recently published in the local press, Berkshire County is continuing to lose population, and those who remain (as well as those choosing to move to the area) are for the most part in the latter half of life.
    Are these the demographic trends that maintain a healthy vibrant community?

  11. GMHeller
    March 14, 2014 at 9:28 am #

    Further, the large number of group homes springing up in Pittsfield means that a percentage of Pittsfield’s ‘new blood’ is coming by way of people who are not necessarily of sound mind when off their meds.
    Mr. Valenti, your observation that “the state forces Pittsfield to take the refuse, driftwood, and riff-raff from other communities” may be more on-point than you realize.
    And is it necessary to remind readers that these are the seeds being sown for Pittsfield’s future?