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Town Meeting Votes to Pay Macy’s $150,000 in Back Interest After Town Loses Abatement Fight

Burlington Town Meeting voted by more than the necessary two-thirds majority to pay $150,000 in back interest on a tax abatement for Macy’s after the town lost a challenge at the state level.

Town Treasurer/Tax Collector Gary Gianino explained that Macy’s had filed for an abatement for the fiscal years 2014-16. The Burlington Board of Assessor’s did not agree with the company’s assessment of their properties value and fought the move in front of the Appellate Tax Board. The town, however, lost the argument and had to pay Macy’s back $246,000 in tax funds. The payment due also carried interest, which came out to be the $150,000 voted on by Town Meeting.

The initial payback was paid using the Town Overlay Account. Normally, the interest payment would have come from Free Cash, Gianino explained, but since that fund has not yet been certified they were forced to use the Stabilization Fund.

The decision to pay the interest garnered very little discussion at Town Meeting but was a hot topic at the September 22 Ways & Means meeting where the town’s financial leaders said they were very unhappy with both Macy’s actions and the Appellate Tax Board’s decision.

“We had a number in mind and Macy’s had a number in mind and the court has made their decision,” Ways & Means Member David Tait said. “The administration is not happy with the decision. We feel we had a very strong case but the long and the short is the court has made the decision.”

Tait added that Macy’s is currently back in court fighting for a similar decision for fiscal years 2017-20 and he believes the town has a stronger case this time around.

“We’ll continue to battle but right now the decision was not in the town’s favor,” he said.

Former Town Assessor Jim Doherty, who is contracted with the town as Town Appraiser/Assistant Assessor after retirement, was even more blunt in his words about the company.

“Macy’s has not been an honorable citizen of this commercial community as it relates to this,” he said. “The reason why Macy’s put the town in the situation we find ourselves in today, in my opinion, they’re dishonesty in terms of how their approach to responding to discovery and production of documents, was the fact that they approached the town they wanted abatements for the first year of $13 million. Certainly there wasn’t much room for compromise when someone doesn’t want to come in the ballpark.”

Doherty added that he had heard Macy’s had been in talks with a large developer about the possibility of doing a major project at their mall location that includes mix use and possibly residential units. This, he said, was further evidence their claims that they require an abatement based on the value of the property were insincere.

“I think the community really needs to come to grips when these people operate one way when off camera, not at Town Meeting, and, in my opinion, don’t want to pay a fair share of their taxes but yet want to come and propose these major developments at the same time they allege the property is almost valueless as it related to any additional expansion on the site,” he said. “I recommend the documents be supplied to the community and let reasonable people read them and get their own takeaway and see if they share the opinion I have formulated in terms of their honesty and responsiveness.”