They served us well – Council’s final meeting will mark the end of an era

The Town Council will hold its last meeting of 2009 on Tuesday night at which time it will vote on whether to maintain the same tax structure for residential and business properties or set separate tax rates, commonly known as tax classification.

The state legislature allowed cities and towns to classify residential and business property at different tax rates in the late 1970s when the State Supreme Judicial Court ruled that all taxable property had to be valued at 100 percent of valuation in every city and town across the state. Previously, assessors in the cities and towns (but primarily in older cities) would value commercial property at or near 100 percent of its full value, but residential property at a smaller percentage of its value. Thus, commercial real estate owners paid more taxes than residential property owners.

After the SJC ruled that practice to be illegal, the legislature essentially legalized it by providing for tax classification, and almost every city and town with a substantial commercial property base has adopted it since that time.

However, in Winthrop the commercial property base is only about five percent of the total value of all real estate. Moreover, all of our commercial property is of the small business variety, as opposed to the oil farms, hotels, and shopping malls in other communities.

For the past three years, the Council has voted unanimously not to saddle businesses with higher taxes and Council members are expected to continue that policy.

But the real drama of the meeting is that it is the last time that Thomas Reilly will bang the gavel as Council President, bringing to a close more than 40 years of service in town government. From his days as a selectman in the 1970s, through his service on town boards, to his election as the town’s first Council President, Reilly has been a superb leader and he has provided a wealth of knowledge to the town.

Town Councillor Richard Gill and Councillor-at-Large Joseph Ferrino Jr. also will be stepping down from the board. Both Richard (who served for many years on the School Committee) and Joe (who served on the former Board of Selectmen) also have had long careers in various elected and appointed offices. Both men have been dedicated councillors who always did what they thought was in the best interests of all the residents of our town.

It is expected that Tom, Richard, and Joe will be making farewell statements at the close of the meeting. It will be a meeting with a lot of emotion, but we can expect that Tom Reilly will guide the Council through it with his usual aplomb, dignity, and professionalism, as he has done on every occasion since he first took office as our first Town Council President.

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