Selectmen to take another look at the property tax rate

In response to a “deluge of email,” mainly from the business community, the Board of Selectmen have decided to take another look at property tax rates for fiscal year 2011.

Last month the board voted to implement Southborough’s first ever split tax rate. Under the plan, residential property would be taxed at $15.38, while commercial and industrial property would be taxed at $16.36.

Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf said last week she didn’t have all the facts when she voted in favor of the split rate plan. She said she didn’t know at the time that vacant land along Route 9 would also be taxed at the higher commercial rate, while undeveloped land in residential areas would be taxed at the lower rate. “To me that’s unfair,” she said.

Parkerville Road resident Chris Robbins said everyone in the business community was “caught off-guard” by the board’s decision to enact a split tax rate.

No business leaders — and only a smattering of residents — attended the tax classification hearing in October. “Perhaps we should have delayed the vote to allow participation by the business community,” Selectman John Rooney said.

In the original vote, Phaneuf and Rooney voted in favor of the split tax rate. Selectman Bill Boland opposed the move.

Rooney said he voted in favor of the split tax rate to even out the tax burden between residents and businesses.

“Between 2002 and 2006, residential value increased three or four times what commercial/industrial value increased,” Rooney said. “During that time, the residential property tax bill on average increased $1,863. The average commercial tax bill decreased by $104.”

“For that 5-year period, residents were disproportionately paying relative to the value of their property.”

Phaneuf said another factor that lead to her wanting to reconsider the tax rate structure is the uneven contributions made by residents and businesses under the Community Preservation Act.

The CPA adds a surcharge to property tax bills to support preservation efforts in town. The first $100K of a residential property’s value is excluded from the surcharge, but the same doesn’t hold for commercial and industrial properties.

The board will hold a new hearing on the tax rate on November 16 at 8:00 pm. Town Administrator Jean Kitchen said she expects a “packed house” at that discussion.

“Business people and residents, we invite you to our meeting,” Phaneuf said.

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