The average property tax bill in Southborough will go up nearly $400 this year

The tax bill for the average Southborough family is going to go up by $392 this year, a 4.9% increase over last year. In approving the tax rate Tuesday night, the Board of Selectmen said the increase reflects the will of Town Meeting.

The Board of Assessors calculates the annual tax rate at an amount that will generate enough revenue to cover the town’s budget. All things being equal, the bigger the budget, the higher the tax rate, and this year voters at Town Meeting approved a bigger budget than what was recommended by the Board of Selectmen.

“Town Meeting voiced its opinion that they were willing to spend more of their tax dollars,” Selectmen Bill Boland said last night. “Citizens that are not happy with that need to come to Town Meeting. This board has tried to keep these tax levels down, but it all comes down to Town Meeting.”

Voters approved $570K more in expenditures than Selectmen recommended for the current fiscal year. The bulk of that funding went to the school budget.

The tax rate approved this week by selectmen is a single tax rate, so the $16.14 rate – up from $15.58 last year – applies to both residential and commercial property.

You might remember last year Selectman John Rooney initially took the position that businesses should pay a higher tax rate than residents, but he said the actions of Town Meeting this year changed his mind.

“If the temperature of the town is such that it’s willing to raise taxes at town meeting, I’m not sure it’s fair to impose a split rate on businesses who many times don’t even have a voice at town meeting,” he said.

All three selectmen said the best way to lower Southborough’s tax rate is to attract new businesses to town, and they praised the work of the Economic Development Committee in fostering a more business-friendly environment. “What we need is new business, new jobs, and additional sources of revenue,” Selectman Dan Kolenda said.

Businesses currently represent 6.3% of the taxable parcels in town, but contribute 19% of the taxable revenue.

The amount of property taxes you will pay depends on your home’s valuation. The average valuation of a single-family home in Southborough is $516,400, meaning the average family will pay $8,335 in taxes this year. If your home is assessed for a higher amount, you’ll pay more than the average. If it’s assessed for a lower amount, you’ll pay less.

Town Assessor Paul Cibelli said home valuations rose slightly this fiscal year, but the total taxable value for the town decreased by more than $15M, mainly due to a decrease in commercial and industrial valuations.

Selectman Bill Boland said while he was concerned that residential tax bills keep going up – to the tune of more than $1,400 on average since 2006 – Town Meeting has the ultimate control over the town budget.

“You have to come to Town Meeting and voice your opinion,” he said.

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Jim Freeman
10 years ago

I’m no Prop 2 1/2 expert but 4.9% seems bigger than 2.5%. What’s the levy limit & levy ceiling for Southborough? Have property taxes been that that much below the limit?

Al Hamilton
10 years ago
Reply to  Jim Freeman

Jim

The Levy is the total amount of money that the town votes to collect in real estate taxes for the purpose of funding the operating budget and non debt warrant articles. Debt is not part of the levy.

The Levy Limit is the amount of Levy that can be authorized by Town Meeting without a vote at the ballot. The Levy Limit automatically increases by 2.5% + new growth + any override regardless of the actual levy. Here is an example

Year 1 – The Levy is $40,000,000 and the Levy Limit is $40,000,000. In other words the Town spends every cent Town Meeting can authorize by itself.

Year 2 – The Levy Limit is $40,000,000 + $50,000 (2.5%)+ $100,000in new growth for a total levy limit of $40,150,000.
Town Meeting Authorizes $40,000,000 so the levy is $40,000,000
In this year tax bills would actually go down since the same amount of spending is spread over more property because of the new growth.

Year 3 The Levy Limit is $40,150,000 + $53,750 (2.5%)+$50,000 in new growth for a total Levy Limit of $40,253,750.
Town Meeting authorizes $42,253,750 spending up to the levy limit which is the most they can raise without an override.
In this year taxes will rise by more than 2.5%.

Debt Service is completely separate from Prop 2.5. Each time we borrow money (we have very high debt at present) we really vote to raise the taxes to pay it back. Monies for debt service are not counted in the Levy. They are added in to the tax rate separately.

Kelly Roney
10 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

Thanks, Al.

Didn’t you mean that debt is a different part of Prop. 2 1/2 from the operating levy limit? The basic difference is that debt exclusions aren’t permanent increases in the total levy limit, so they don’t affect operating budgets.

I found this reference. It has some terminological differences with you, Al, but your explanation is clearer as long as you’re putting debt exclusions off to the side.

parent
10 years ago

I dont want to start “bashing” but you all let the school committee and the selectman approve pay raises yet again for all the teachers and the superintendent of schools in in Southborough. Again, how can any increases be awarded folks? Who got increases except laywers and the folks that work for Fidelity or those in those industries. They dont care, they make a ton. For the average Joe and Mary, if they are employed ($50k-200K per year family income), they have not had increases in pay, only increases in the cost of living (really 50% just in the past two years and 80% in the past 5 years). It has to stop, we need responsible school committee folks that say no and have a back up plan for those dreaded threatened teacher strikes. Also, you need to start to elect conservative politicians in the state. So many rules and regulations concerning mandated school practices (and eco laws et..) come from the state level and the Massachusetts Teachers Association MTA and the National Education Association – NEA, group have all the liberal politicians in their pockets. If they pass a law at the state and or federal level it flows down to our schools, down to us – our town. It may be good, it may be bad, it may be suprifilous, but it most certainly is never funded. And our cost of doing business as a town/school keep rising. And dont give me the lame excuse the teachers kicked in for medical. They now apy roughly 5% of all their dental and medical costs. I pay and mose pay between 25-40%.

Jim
10 years ago
Reply to  parent

Parent-

You wrote ” …you all let the school committee and the selectman approve pay raises yet again for all the teachers and the superintendent of schools in in Southborough.”

Do not blame the Southborough Selectmen on this one. (Now we could talk about the firefighter contracts or police contracts if you’d like.)

The School Committee is the ONLY elected body that sets the salary for the teachers and superintendent. Also, pleas note that at the last town meeting, the School Committee members refused to discuss the amount of raise in the contract with the teachers.

If you are not pleased with the decisions of the School Committee, please consider running for the next position or nominating and supporting someone who will support your point of view.

That is the ONLY way you will get the change you want.

Neil Rossen
10 years ago

We can expect more of the same next year. Here is the annual, seemingly invariable, script for Town Meeting:

Supporters of the usual significant increase demanded by the school will show up en masse. They will proceed to audibly vilify those who argue against it and will vote en bloc for the amount demanded by Gobron in his usually loud, emotional presentation. These supporters have little interest in finding what objective performance objectives have been met, and have even less interest in residents on fixed incomes who will suffer yet another tax increase.

Many residents may be tired after a long day at work, or even simply have no inclination to attend an essentially boring event with a predictable outcome. Until we have internet voting where ALL might be represented we can look forward to the continuing tyranny by the minority who do attend.

I anticipate the usual protests about it being that those who care attend. I suggest many have given up.

Jim Freeman
10 years ago

I didn’t mean this to turn into a general budget debate but……

Democracy is hard. It was meant to be hard. If you abdicate that responsibility that’s your own fault. Too many folks have ceded their authority to others and the end result is you get the government you deserve.

If you think too many politicians in this state genuflect to the MTA then do something about it. I have zero sympathy for people who can’t be bothered to go to town meeting and then complain about taxes. Those are your fellow residents that voted, not some amorphous group that’s wrested control surreptitiously in the middle of the night.

Supporters of a highly unusual significant decrease have to show up en masse. If they don’t then they don’t care enough, do they.

John Rooney
10 years ago

Mr. Rosen, Your words suggest residential resignation; I reluctantly fear that your accuracy rings true.

We witness at town meeting how a group of voters with a special interest can turn out in disproportionate numbers to influence the outcome on specific issues. This factionalism, which James Madison termed the “mischief’s of faction” leads to results that may not accurately reflect the wishes of the overwhelming majority of voters in town. Axiomatically, of course, direct democracy is a majoritarian system of representation. As a majoritarian institution, direct democracy requires majorities of voters to support a particular policy and, by definition, minority groups are outvoted. That is the system we as a town have had in place. And, it is working exactly as it was designed, for the majority in attendance. Perhaps recognizing the Madisonian concern, some towns have opted for a “Representative Town Meeting.”

Representative town meeting is essentially a hybrid form of government that combines certain features of open town meeting with a representative body. Residents delegate legislative power to a large number of elected representatives, but reserve the right to attend and speak at town meeting. At a minimum, one has to acknowledge that a representative town meeting is more likely to accurately reflect the wishes and desires of a larger segment of our town than present practice. For those ready to vilify me with barbs of being anti-democratic, lest you forget that America is a republic and not a democracy. On the town level, a safeguard can be in place so that all residents have the power to veto almost all actions taken at a representative town meeting by petitioning for a referendum vote by the town as a whole.

If we make the assumption that the town is not willing to move to a representative form of government, working within our current system, I have suggested remote Internet voting as a way to increase town meeting participation. Our world is changing so fast that democracy is endangered unless residents are involved continuously in setting policy direction. Modern technology offers the means to engage the public in decision-making and provides an opportunity to give more people a “voice.” Those who oppose it do so with the quaint notion that our sense of community would suffer. Agreed. Yet, that “community” is comprised of less than 5% of voters in our town; 95% of the town does not choose to experience this communal sense already.

At next town meeting the attendees will be voting on just how much our taxes should increase. You can either chose to have a vote or not. It is really as simple as that.

Al Hamilton
10 years ago
Reply to  John Rooney

John

I was wondering the same thing, would we be better off with town meeting members being elected by precinct. This would in some form represent the will of a larger number of voters. However, I am not sure if this is a panacea. The town we lived in before Southborough had representative town meeting each precinct had 50 or 75 member and each precinct did not elect a full slate. Every one that ran got elected.

However, I think this is moot as I suspect that the change would have to be adopted by Town Meeting and if those that attend seem to like the system as it is. Recall that the attempt to move ATM to Saturday to encourage participation failed miserably.

So, have the system we have for better and worse. It is about as fair and open as any government forum on the planet but is has its limitations and faults.

In short if you are angry about your taxes you need to go to town meeting and have the courage to vote NO

“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” – Churchill

Alex Neihaus
10 years ago
Reply to  John Rooney

Al,

I was an elected Town Meeting member in Brookline in the late 1980’s. I lived in a precinct dominated by the (then) all-power Brookline Tenant Union, which had a litmus test. If you were for rent control, you were elected. If not, you weren’t. I voted once during my term for a mild change in a home-rule petition that would have modestly increased landlords’ rights. At the next election, I was cashiered out of Town Meeting.

A representative town meeting can just as easily be captured by special interests as an open town meeting. The difference is an open meeting has the potential — unfortunately rarely realized — to be truly representative. Once an elected town meeting has been overwhelmed by special interests, it needs only the continued lethargy of the townspeople to remain in nearly complete control.

Oh, and even though there was no doubt about what would happen in my days of Brookline Town meetings, the meetings were no shorter. :-)

Kelly Roney
10 years ago

Maybe Town Meeting is obsolete. It does require the expenditure of 8 or 9 hours every single year, and that’s clearly too much for some citizens, especially if they find themselves voting in the minority all the time. But if the voters want to change it, that’s their prerogative. Of course, they would have to show up to at least a few Town Meetings to vote Town Meeting out of existence.

I don’t like the idea of Internet voting at TM. In what sense would the Moderator then have control of the hall? If you’ve ever been on a conference call when someone put their line on hold, you know there would have to be some ability to end or block a remote session. Would Internet voters then effectively have a secret ballot, while attendees would not? Maybe that’s the real purpose – no accountability to one’s neighbors. Could Internet voters debate, submit amendments, really join the meeting? How would the Town Clerk and his staff verify that the registered voter at a connection was actually casting his/her vote? Would a renewed biometric sign-in be required to vote on any motion? If not, could a child or baby-sitter vote on behalf of the actual voter? Could a spouse vote again on behalf of an absent spouse?

Currently, Town Meeting is not demographically representative, that’s true and a real problem. But I’m not sure that’s changing the outcome of school votes – where the money is. The voters I see as least represented are the parents of young children, and I suspect they would vote even more overwhelmingly for school budgets. Those who want any additional obstacle to spending tax revenues might be very disappointed by the outcome of Internet TM voting, even if it could work.

If you want Internet voting, wouldn’t that work better for a traditional election? Sure, I wouldn’t need to stand out in freezing November at the polls – but I can live without that. An election ballot can be voted in a short enough time to obviate most of my concerns about multiple votes over the course of a 4-hour meeting. How to establish legal identity at the time of voting would still be a challenge. I’m not sure a webcam image would be enough. Would everyone need a fingerprint scanner? With the town keeping all those fingerprints on file in their computers…

Last, some word quibbling. I often hear the “republic, not a democracy” formula given as if it were a critical insight. It isn’t. The two words are not mutually exclusive. There is a sense of the word republic that means merely not a monarchy. But that thin gruel is not what the U.S. Constitution guarantees us. The Constitution establishes a federal republic in the sense of that word that means a democratic government implemented as a representative democracy and it further guarantees each state a republican form of government in the same democratic sense.

southsider
10 years ago

Does ANYONE in MA conduct Town Meeting over the Internet? How expensive would it be to pioneer something as complex as that? Why are our elected leaders pushing for something that can not happen?
As for the articles particulars, maybe I’m not doing the math right but I read that each $500k home pays over $8k in taxes. I also read that our business/industrial tax base decreased by more than $15million. I think that means that we received over $250k LESS in tax revenue from business/industry. So, I think that means that about half of our $570k overall tax increase came because of lost tax revenue. Town Meeting may have been responsible for some of the increase but I think the ‘blame’ must be equally shared with the reduced Business/industry base. Maybe that would be a better focus for our elected leaders.

Al Hamilton
10 years ago
Reply to  southsider

I think that if you look at the way the town treated Capasso’s, Pizza 19 and the Gulbankian’s it would be perfectly reasonable to conclude that Southborough was not a particularly friendly place for small business.

The reality is that if you are in a business that is not dependent on serving a particular area (eg restaurant) then a business owner looking to expand or for a new facility has a lot of choices right now. So, the question is why should a small business locate in Southborough? What competitive advantage does our community offer?

Frank Crowell
10 years ago
Reply to  southsider

If internet voting during town meeting can help break up the education cabal in this town, you can count me in that camp.



If anyone thinks this town is friendly to small business owners, simply has not been reading this blog. It does not matter if the business is new our has a long history in town.

John Butler
10 years ago

I think it would be best to stop talking about internet voting for Town Meeting unless the context is an appeal to the state legislature to pass a law to permit it. Regardless of its technical feasibility, it would be imprudent to attempt it without legal authorization, since otherwise any decisions would be at risk of being overturned.

Al Hamilton
10 years ago
Reply to  John Butler

John

I think discussion of this option is perfectly appropriate we just should not think that it will happen in the next 30 years or so. After all we still think of public notice as printing things in the “dead tree media” .

John Butler
10 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

Yes, Al, you get the point. The incentive to address the technical problems of internet town meeting is sapped by the fact that any solution is probably against the law. Fixing both the law and the technical problems is a big job.
As you seem to refer to, I have also been told by town officials that we can’t meet legal advertising requirements with Craigslist (free and with immense readership) we must pay for classified newspaper ads, and that surplus town goods can’t be sold on ebay, the Town must run its own auction sale with newspaper advertising.

jim
10 years ago
Reply to  John Butler

John,

I was intrigued to read this portion of your post “…and that surplus town goods can’t be sold on ebay, the Town must run its own auction sale with newspaper advertising.”

An Ebay search for NTSA will show the thousands of items left behind at airport screening sites are put up for auction by the federal NTSA.

John Butler
10 years ago
Reply to  jim

Rules for Federal agencies are not Massachusetts rules for its Towns. I phrased it as I did, however, (“told by Town officials”), because I have not independently verified the requirement. I have suggested using Craigslist for “legal notices” and using eBay for auctions and been told that the fees for newspaper ads that appear in budgets every year, (and the far smaller awareness they generate), cannot be avoided by using these more modern tools, based on State law. It is a crazy policy, but that is what I’ve been told. The amount of money isn’t big enough for me to pursue it further, but it is symptomatic of a larger problem.

Frank Crowell
10 years ago
Reply to  John Butler

Of course it would also be imprudent not to find ways or discuss ways to reduce spending and I for one will not stop talking about it. I am sure our fine BOS is aware of legalities of internet voting or will be made aware by the tax payer funded lawyer.



Since moving to town, I have wondered if snottiness is an acquired trait or one that is inherited. The jury is out on this one.



I am off to be accountable to my neighbors by finding ways to pay my taxes.

Neil Rossen
10 years ago

All discussion of the upcoming budget pales beside expenditures on the schools. Last year, you may recall, there was a gag on the ridiculous pay increases won for the teachers by their rapacious unions. The School Committee which is elected by the voters serves as cheerleaders for anything the teachers and/or their unions want without regard to the townspeople and taxpayers. . Have they, for example, performed any studies as to what improved performance has been gained from all the money thrown at educating our children? Has the Board of Selectman asked for such an accounting? In fact, is anyone on the Committee even capable of carrying out such a study? Has the Committee in any way limited the ceaseless requests for more funding?

Those who are interested in an objective study that demonstrates that becoming a teacher is simpler than most educated occupations and that they are not by any means underpaid can turn to today’s opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal (available free I believe) for an erudite essay on the topic (with a reference for the research undertaken by the writers. The url is http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203687504576655352353046120.html.
Has the Committee read it? I doubt it.

As far as Town Meeting is concerned, I would request that the Selectmen compile, with the help of the Town, the email addresses of residents. This would allow the Selectmen to communicate with voters on the issues well BEFORE town meeting.

Pat Q
10 years ago

So, we can agree that internet voting is probably many years away. But, is that the only alternative to the current method of voting at Town Meeting?

People are admitting that the current process may be obsolete and it has already been documented that only a tiny portion of registered voters are showing up/represented at Town Meeting. People are also bothered by the fact that some groups are becoming more boisterous than others or than is appropriate at Town Meeting.

Earlier in these posts Jim Freeman commented that “Democracy is hard….it was meant to be hard” and I get that. I know I show up at Town Meeting and make my voice heard by voting but many of my peers do not….for many differnt reasons. I am proud to make my vote count. But, I have to admit it becomes more and more uncomfortable to do this as the issues become more contentious. Why should the entire room be privy to my vote? It is my vote and shouldn’t be everyone’s business.
Shouldn’t I have the right to privacy when voting?

Town Meeting laws in Mass. offer several options for voting…..voice vote, show of hands, standing vote or rising vote AND secret ballot. Why do we not use this option?
And does it have to be done at Town Meeting? Is it an option to offer Town Meeting to discuss the warrant articles, listen to various presentations (Superintendant, Police, historical society, etc) and then be able to vote on a different day, at a designated place over the course of that day?

The objective shouldn’t be to change the outcome of the “school people” vs. “non-school people” votes, but to make the voting process more accessible to more people and more representative of voter registration numbers.

Then perhaps you could start to minimize the us vs. them atmosphere or mentality that has become part of Town Meeting but really has no place there.

John Butler
10 years ago
Reply to  Pat Q

Pat,
There have been two objections to the use of secret ballot within Town Meeting. The express one is that it is very slow and cumbersome. This however is only because it is done so seldom. If we chose to equip ourselves for fast secret ballots then it could be as fast or faster than any vote that needs to be counted by the tellers. The other reason is that the tradition of Town Meeting is “stand up and be counted”. Town Meeting is the Town’s legislature. In this country most, if not all, legislatures do not provide for secret ballot. Members of congress cannot vote in secret nor may they vote remotely, not even from their capitol hill offices. I think that this second reason is weak, and that if you want secret ballot you should push for it. It wouldn’t be hard to remove the practical impediments, but it will take some push to make it happen.

The other idea, of “voting on a different day” is not authorized by state law, so it can’t be done, reasonably, without getting permission, which I’d guess would not be forthcoming.

Lastly, although I understand that a large group of “one issue voters” showed up to support the schools last year, the schools have been well supported in years past by audiences that, from my perch, look to be dominated by grey heads. In years past the absence of parents of current schoolchildren has been striking while the school budget has enjoyed strong support. Since my children enjoyed schools here that had, in one year, an average pupil teacher ratio of 18.7, I, for one, feel morally obligated to return the inter-generational support. That doesn’t mean the schools do not need fiscal scrutiny (they certainly do, probably more than they get), but there is in fact a broad base of support here for maintaining quality education as a central priority of the Town.

Pat Q
10 years ago
Reply to  John Butler

John,

Thank you for responding to my post.

I want to repeat that it is not my intent to change the outcome of voting but to make the process more appealing to voters within the rules of TM. This would, I hope, increase participation. Then, decisions are being made by a larger number of registered voters instead of a tiny percentage of voters and would be more representative of the town as a whole. It would perhaps start to diffuse accusations that one small group controls the outcome of certain budgets.

My intentions for changing the system are two-fold. First, to try to diffuse the “school vs. non-school” atmosphere creeping into TM and try to make it a venue for healthier discussions. Second, trying to make the process more appealing to voters by making the process more private…which I would hope would turn out more attendees. “Stand up and be Counted” is wonderfully American and virtuous but when it becomes “stand up and be counted in front of an angry crowd” it is intimidating and perhaps turns many people completely off from the whole TM process. This is a flaw in the system that has emerged as issues have become more contentious and personal to people as we all struggle with the current economy. Allowing people to vote in private may diffuse the hostility

I am not saying I am in one group or another regarding the school crowd; what “camp” I choose to be in is personal to me and when I want to share that information should be my choice. Like I said in an earlier post, “why should the entire room be privy to my vote?

I must add that I too, will soon be a “grey head” myself (sooner rather than later, I sadly admit) and I agree with you in not pulling support from the school budget when one no longer has children in the system……..but people shouldn’t be intimidated to do so either way because of rowdy crowds or how difficult/uncomfortable it has become to stand up and be counted. Some “gray heads” may not have a choice regardless of wanting to return the favor.

One last thing, I realize members of Congress cannot vote in private, nor should they be able to. That is a totally different ball game all together. My wish to vote in private should have nothing to do with, nor be compared to, the voting procedures of an elected public official.

John Butler
10 years ago
Reply to  Pat Q

Pat,
I think these are valid points. I would support efforts to make it easier, both practically and procedurally, to have secret ballots. There were a large number of people who in a response to a question on this blog six months ago or so said that they would vote differently if they voted at Town Meeting via secret ballot. I think that fact needs to be considered.

It will be important not to just try to do this without warning to the Moderator or Town Clerk, because that would bring Town Meeting to a crawl and get people mad at you. You can contact them yourself, but also feel free to contact me. My email address can be found at southboroughadvisory.com. I’ll think about how to help make this easier.

Pat Q
10 years ago
Reply to  John Butler

Thank you John. I’ll be in touch to get more details and continue the discussion.

-Pat

carrie alpert
10 years ago
Reply to  Pat Q

great post Pat and I completely agree with everything you voiced~

Carl
10 years ago

I would suggest that anyone agreeing whole heartedly with Neil’s proclamation regarding the intelligence quotion of teachers read the above sited Wall Street Journal article in it’s entirety rather than his partially quoted sentence. Perhaps you should te-read it too Neil.

Neil Rossen
10 years ago

First, I did not refer to teacher IQ but rather to course difficulty.

As to Pat’s comment, I’m afraid that it will boil down to us – whoever “we” are – and them – school people vs non-school. The President and his union supporters have exacerbated the split. They will do anything to preserve their pay and increases despite the hardships placed on the community. I’m afraid we’ll have to choose.

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