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Editorial: Recreation tax would benefit us all



Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Charlemont came up short in trying to get the Legislature to approve a local recreation tax on outdoor activities.

But instead of throwing in the towel, town officials want to develop an improved proposal to submit to the Legislature. That seems like the right approach.

In June 2016, a town meeting supported a home-rule proposal to levy a 3 percent tax on Charlemont’s businesses that provide the public with recreational opportunities like skiing, mountain biking or zip lining at Berkshire East Mountain Resort or rafting or tubing down the Deerfield River with Zoar Outdoor and Crab Apple Rafting. These businesses had thrown their support behind the tax in part because the revenue raised would help the town with police patrols on the river and with its ambulance, services on which these businesses depend.

Charlemont officials see this tax as a valuable revenue source. Beth Bandy, who chairs the Board of Selectmen, said recently “Our property tax base is not expanding, and we need to find new forms of revenue.”

The levy would be collected like a sales tax that would go quarterly into the town’s general fund. Town officials don’t know how much money it would generate, but, says Bandy, they are confident that getting this recreation tax on the books would provide “the single largest new source of revenue for the town.”

What Charlemont is seeking is something new for Massachusetts, thus the need for vetting and approval by the Legislature. But such a tax is used elsewhere. Vermont has a similar local option sales tax, of 1 percent, which is in effect for Killington, Stratton and Middlebury ski areas.

The House approved the measure, but it died in the Senate’s Third Reading Committee.

“On the Senate side, they had issues with how the Department of Revenue would implement the law,” state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, said. According to an aide for former state Sen. Benjamin Downing, some senators had “questions about whether it was constitutional to levy taxes on such services.”

But unless the state is going to increase its aid to rural communities like Charlemont so that they can afford safety and emergency services, lawmakers should allow towns to create new revenue sources. And this recreation tax, with the backing of those subject to the tax, does just that.

Town officials planned to meet with Mark to discuss how to tweak the bill so that it passes the Senate. And getting Charlemont’s new state senator, Adam Hinds, on board makes sense. So does reaching out to state Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, who represents a large part of Franklin County and routinely looks out for the interests of the rural towns of western Massachusetts.

Having this recreation tax for this town of roughly 1,200 residents makes too much sense for Charlemont to give up on it yet.