The question of whether or not Hawley is an impoverished town was food for discussion for the approximately 50 people who attended the Hawley Borough Council meeting on December 12.
Investors in the Hawley Silk Mill want the borough to designate an area around the Silk Mill and the downtown area as “distressed,” which would allow the borough to adopt an ordinance that in turn could take advantage of the state’s Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance Act (LERTA). The investors are asking that the borough then approve tax abatements for the Silk Mill over five years.
Tax abatement could also be sought for other new businesses in the designated area outside the Silk Mill. “There is lots of room for development,” said Justin Genzlinger, one of the Silk Mill investors. He said that attracting new business to Hawley would provide revenue to the borough. He called the Silk Mill “a field of dreams.”
Councilwoman Mary Sanders said to Genzlinger, “I would love to make your dreams happen,” but expressed concern that if the tax abatement were granted, the borough’s budget could not be balanced without a tax increase.
“There are those who would literally lose their homes,” she warned, reiterating what seemed to be the concern of the entire council. “We’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. I’ve seen it in other towns—the elderly are forced to move out and sell their homes to younger residents.” The complexion of the town would be completely revamped in a way Sanders felt would be unhealthy.
Tax collector Barbara Middaugh said such a tax increase would be “the tipping point for some people. There’s more struggling than people are aware of.”
Resident Benjamin Baker, who lives on a fixed income, spoke of the potential hardships he would face if a tax increase were to come to fruition. “I know I can’t afford a tax increase,” he said, “and I know a lot of other people who can’t afford one.”
With the five-year abatement, the borough could lose up to an estimated $34,000. Attorney Anthony Waldron, another Silk Mill investor, presented the council with a sample ordinance that could be used to adopt the tax abatements.
Genzlinger said, “You know the old adage, you have to spend money to make money.” He said that if the Silk Mill were vacant, the taxpayers would still have to pay for it. He went on to name numerous parcels of land that he said, if developed, would provide much-needed revenue for the area.
His vision is to see more residential and commercial development in the borough, and reminded those in attendance that, for the most part, people did not foresee that Northampton College would ever set up residence in Hawley. He touched on the fact that dormitories for the college may be in Hawley’s future.
Hawley council president Don Kyzer said to Genzlinger, “We appreciate what you’re doing.”
Michele Rojas, vice president of the council, said perhaps grant money could be used to soften the burden on taxpayers.
Kyzer said that only through expert testimony would the council get a better idea about whether the area is “impoverished and destitute.” He said that if a hearing were to take place, there would have to be expert testimony from developers, private enterprise and the planning committee among others.
There will be a public hearing on January 1 on the issue at the regular meeting of the planning board.