Archive for Thursday, July 12, 2001

Abatement arguments continue unabated

July 12, 2001


Jim Henry had hoped to have the work of the city's Tax Abatement Task Force about wrapped up by now.

On Tuesday, though, task force members spent their third consecutive meeting haggling over details of how much an abatement should be determined by a prospective business' wages. And debates took on an increasingly personal tone.

Henry, a city commissioner and chair of the task force, had planned on finishing work in July. Tuesday, he said that deadline won't be met, but progress is being made.

"We're getting momentum going," Henry said. "In some ways, it's frustratingly slow, but it's so important we carefully and thoughtfully consider every decision we make. It's clear that's happening."

It's also clear the level of civility is slipping. Task force members Alan Zimmerman and Lew Phillips briefly tangled when Phillips started to review his case for keeping the tax abatement policy flexible.

"You're not telling us anything we haven't heard before," Zimmerman interrupted.

"I get to speak," Phillips said, pointing at Zimmerman. "I get to speak."

A few minutes later, task force member Ernie Angino accused Zimmerman of trying to block new business development in Lawrence.

"Part of the under-the-table agenda is to try to stop everybody from coming into town," Angino said.

"Don't tell me what my agenda is," Zimmerman responded.

Other task force members tried to rein in the arguments.

"We're being divisive here," Janet Gerstner said.

After the meeting, Henry said such arguments are to be expected.

"I purposely did this. I brought people from across the spectrum to this board," he said. "But I think we're closer together than farther apart."

Any "under-the-table" agendas, he said, will be mitigated by consensus found in the larger committee.

In the end, the task force seemed to find consensus on language that requires businesses seeking an abatement to pay their employees the industry average or median, if the information is available in Lawrence. Members also discussed the possibility of giving larger abatements to existing industries that want to expand.

Left to do: Decisions about the time-lengths of future abatements, and the membership of the advisory panel that will review abatement applications. Henry urged the task force to meet more frequently to get the work done.

"I think we're getting down to the wire here on making some real good decisions," he said.

The next meeting is noon Tuesday at city hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.

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