METHUEN — City Councilor Larry Giordano is calling on Methuen residents to show up for a "tea party" to protest a proposed residential tax hike on Monday night.

"I think it's time that people start voicing their opinion, saying, 'Enough is enough,'" Giordano said.

Giordano said he hopes 150 people will pack the City Council's special meeting at 7 p.m. in the Great Hall of City Hall.

"I've been calling people and I've been telling them to come out," Giordano said.

Councilors John Cronin Jr., Stephen Zanni and Joseph Leone signed a request to hold the meeting to revisit a lingering problem with tax rates.

"My thought is, we have to re-visit the budget, take a look at possible cuts... and then set the tax rate," Zanni said.

Zanni said he wants to lessen the tax increase and set a rate "that we can agree upon."

Councilors voted in favor of tax rates on Dec. 7 that would have caused average tax increases of $88 for residents and $609 for businesses. The state Department of Revenue rejected the rates, saying they would place too much burden on businesses.

That led Mayor William Manzi to ask councilors to approve shift in the ratio between on businesses and residential properties. That adjustment would have resulted in tax rates of $12 per $1,000 of property valuation for residents and $22.18 per $1,000 of valuation for businesses, while the rates the council approved on Dec. 7 were $11.86 and $22.99 per $1,000 of valuation, respectively.

The new shift would have increased the amount that residents pay by $128, on average, over what they paid last year, while the increase for businesses would have dropped from $609 to $287.

But councilors didn't act on Manzi's request at their most recent meeting last Monday night, and Manzi said the city will be prevented from mailing tax bills at the end of the month as planned.

The added hit to residents has turned councilors like Giordano, who voted in favor of the first tax rate, against the new rate.

"I would have no problem opening up the budget and making some more cuts," Giordano said.

Without the ability to mail out tax bills, Manzi says the city will face a shortfall of about $12 million in the "January/February time frame," which would force employee furloughs until the city resolves the tax problem and has money to pay workers.

"If they have to do furloughs, do furloughs," Giordano said. "My son works for the sheriff's department. He had to take a 19-day furlough."

But the problem is that furloughing employees could violate the agreements that the mayor reached with labor unions earlier this year. City unions took 10-percent pay cuts to prevent layoffs, and violating the agreements could force the city to be liable to re-pay the $1.9 million in concessions that employees made, according to Manzi.

Manzi said he's open to suggestions for cuts that don't violate collective bargaining contracts.

Bringing the residential tax increase back down to $88, on average, without going beyond the limit of taxes the city can impose on businesses would require officials to cut $730,000 from the budget, Manzi said.

The mayor has noted that he saved money by eliminating several positions from the payroll, including a deputy police chief, a police captain, an assistant fire chief, eight public works jobs and the historic planner. He also cut the planning director to half time.


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