Single tax rate approved: Rate reduced but your bill may be a little higher

The board again approved a single tax rate for FY16.

The rate is a decrease from $16.02 to $15.82 per thousand (about 1.26%). However, assessors estimate that (excluding the Community Preservation surcharge) the average family’s bill will go up by 1.97% (or $176).

That estimate is based on home valuations which are 3.27% higher than last year. With an average single family home valued at $575,500, the average homeowner will pay $9,104 (before the CPA surcharge).

For FY16 the total taxable value increased by $96.68 million to $2.342 billion. Only about 45% of that was credited to new growth (a decrease in “new tax dollars” from the previous year.)

After reading the letter of explanation from the Board of Assessors Principal Assessor Paul Cibelli answered selectmen’s questions. He explained that new growth in a year depends on the timing of projects. They had expected much lower new growth this year, since last year’s included a major condo project (Madison Place). But there were more individual personal property projects than they expected.

Cibelli also clarified that the recently completed project to update single family property records wasn’t fully to blame for increases in assessed property values.

Reassessment of property values occurs every year. But every nine years, the Department of Revenue requires the assessors to update the data that feeds into those assessments. Sometimes they discover changes that actually reduce property values (torn out finished basements after flooding, removed pools, conditions deteriorated, etc.)

Cibelli thanked the community for allowing them in to inspect about 42% of property interiors, versus the average compliance of about a third.

The Board of Assessors recommendation urged continuing the single tax rate for residential and commercial properties. Attending selectmen* and four members of the audience spoke in support. Only one speaker argued against it. 

The BOA letter pointed out that retaining businesses is important to Town coffers. Commercial and industrial properties represent 5.94% of taxable parcels but account for 19.22% of revenue from both real estate and personal property taxes. And they noted that businesses cost less in town services. Meanwhile, businesses also contribute funds in support of athletic, recreational and community events.

Selectman Dan Kolenda claimed that some towns, like Framingham and Worcester, that have the split rate are now looking to “walk back” that decision.

Resident Sam Stivers stood alone in making his “annual pitch” for a split rate. He claimed that assessors continually fail to demonstrate data that shows that a split rate is “disastrous”, while a previous presentation by resident Carl Guyer demonstrated that it would help the town’s economy.

Chris Robbins of the Economic Development Committee, countered with a claim that one of the state’s top economists has refuted Guyer’s and Stiver’s data.

Robbin echoed much of EDC Chair’s Dave McCay’s earlier comments. Both urged a single rate as a matter of fairness. Robbins testified that more than 50% of businesses in town are small businesses, many owned by residents who are already paying taxes.

McCay also claimed that Marlborough and many other towns with the split rate are forced to make up for it by offering lots of TIFs** to entice companies due to high commercial vacancy rates.

Also asking for the single rate were representatives from EDC and Corridor Nine chamber of commerce.

*Chair John Rooney was absent from the meeting. The other four attending selectmen were unanimous in their vote.

**For those of you unfamiliar with TIF, I’m assuming McCay was referring to Tax Incentive Financing.

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