Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Two steps forward, one slide back.

Alas, my annual membership fee to The People’s Republic of Amherst is up 33 cents this year—that is 33 cents per $1,000 of valuation. Thus I will pay the Politburo $3,800…and it doesn’t even include a personal masseuse.

If a tornado uprooted my humble abode and plopped it down in Hadley, the membership fee there would be about half that ($2,095).

Last night, rather late, Town Meeting took baby steps towards economic development. We extended the business district a smidgeon to include the Lord Jeff Inn and some other Amherst College owned properties in the immediately vicinity thus paving the way for the stately Inn to expand by at least 33%.

Currently valued at $2 million the Lord Jeff membership fee to Amherst this year is $32,000 and they also pay the 4% hotel/motel room tax something the tax-exempt Umass Campus Center Hotel (with room sales last year of $919,382) ignores.

Thus the Lord Jeff expansion is a double win for Amherst: a significant increase in property tax valuation and increased sales subject to the local room tax.

But we narrowly failed to muster the two-thirds required (100-53) for a slight loosening of restrictions to allow hotel/motels in the downtown business district. A great night for Amherst College, as now there is little likelihood of increased lodging competition.

As long as Amherst’s tax base remains 90% housing and 10% commercial, the annual membership fees will remain entirely too steep; and the only one that benefits is Hadley.

JUST THOUGHT OF IT NOW UPDATE: Interestingly, both the Town Moderator Harrison Gregg and Chair of the Planning Board Aaron Hayden stepped down during the discussion last night to avoid Conflict of Interest as they are both employed by Amherst College. Too bad our Select board members, who are employed by Umass (or immediate family), don’t have the same high threshold for integrity.


O'Reilly said...

Does Umass acknowelege the hotel tax liability? Is it exempted covered under the strategic agreement?

Hadely residents pay about half in taxes of what Amherst residents pay. If you compared the services received for tax dollars paid in the two towns, do you think Amherst residents would begin to rethink the money they're willing to spend on services?

LarryK4 said...

No, Umass covers its ears and shouts NAH, NAH, NA, NAH, NA whenever the subject of the Hotel/Motel tax comes up. I’m going to double check the figures over the next few weeks as Stan Rosenberg has on his website the figure $70,000 (a far cry from $40,000) for the amount it would generate IF they paid it (also pointing out it is simply a “pass along to the consumer” tax that does not impact their bottom line); and I believe that estimate was done a few years ago.

Amherst True Believers simply shrug and say “our venerable schools make it all worthwhile.” But last I looked; Hadley’s Hopkins Academy does almost as well as our High School in MCAS testing, graduation rates, and going-on-to-fine college rates.

LarryK4 said...

Here is the exact quote from the study done in 2003:

Eliminate UMASS Amherst Campus Center's exemption from hotel / motel tax (that tax doesn't cost the state anything, doesn't cost the university anything, shouldn't be an edge in competition against local hotels / motels). This could be a significant ($70,000+) help to Amherst.

Gavin Andresen said...

I compared Amherst and Hadley schools last year. Hadley has a really good graduation rate, and, it's true, sends about the same percentage of kids to college, but if I remember correctly, Amherst sends more kids to 4-year colleges and to private colleges.

So maybe you get a fancier education in Amherst, and maybe having high-school friends who go to fancier universities gives you a leg-up after you graduate...

Or maybe all the people who move to Amherst for the "great schools" are delusional.

O'Reilly said...

It sounds like the Town of Amherst is in complete control of either requirng or exempting the hotel tax.

If I were in Amherst town governemtn, I'd notify Umass of our entention to enforce the room tax effective 12 months from today. That's fair lead time for Umass and it secures the revenue or atleast adds it to the list of negotiables.

O'Reilly said...

Amherst Schools are known to be good schools. Schools usaully amount to about 60% of the towns budget so its worth taking a look at how the money is spent and if less could be spent with the same result. Amherst has an excellent superintendent. I'd give him the resources to run the study as a joint effort with the town's finance person.

LarryK4 said...

We have complete control over the effluent water the Select board gifted to Umass over the next five years ($200,000 minimum) and complete control over raising their potable water fees to, say, that of Hadley's high-volume user rate (thus raising $300,000 per year) but the Campus Center Hotel tax would need legislative approval. Stan, Ellen... are you out there?

Chris Hoffmann said...

Minor point:

But we narrowly failed to muster the two-thirds required (100-53) for a slight loosening of restrictions to allow hotel/motels in the downtown business district.

Of course, hotel/motels are allowed in the business district. It was a question of whether they are allowed "by right" or need a special permit from the ZBA. [Also, I think the vote was 100-54.]

LarryK4 said...

Well let's wait for the crusty old Gazette to publish the actual photo finish results or Stephanie if she has a couple cappuccinos, but I still think it was 100-53. Either way, dead is dead.

And as I said on Stephanie’s Town Meeting Experience blog: the difference between Planning Board “by right” vs. ZBA “special permit” is like playing Russian Roulette with a six-shooter that has either 5 empty chambers (Planning Board “by right”) or only 3 empty chambers (special permit from the ZBA) whereby only ONE individual--and remember, we’re talking Amherst individuals--can be having a bad hair day and decide NO, NO, NO, I’m not going to support anything.

I’d much rather mud wrestle an oversized alligator.