Taxes and “completing Pocket Park” – Tuesday

The Select Board's agenda for next week includes two items that will be of great interest to some readers.

On Tuesday, the Select Board will hold its annual Tax Classification Hearing. Given concerns that taxes are expected to increase more than forecast last spring, it will be of interest to some readers.

On the same night, the Board will follow through on its promise to publicly discuss next steps for the controversial St. Mark’s Street park project.

[Editor’s Note: I promise, I will write more about last night’s Special Town Meeting. But I wanted to give residents more notice on these scheduled discussions, rather than waiting for Monday’s weekly post.] 

The meeting is scheduled for October 18th at 6:30 pm. It will be a hybrid meeting to allow in-person and remote participation. You can find the agenda (and likely a packet posted prior to the meeting) here.

Tax Classification Hearing

The Town has historically taxed properties at a single rate — the same for residences and commercial. In 2010, the Select Board voted to move to a split rate. That decision was reversed the following month based on a massive outcry from the business community. Since then, a few residents have occasionally attempted and failed to convince the Board to adopt a lower rate for residents than businesses.

On October 3rd, Select Board Chair Kathy Cook previewed that the Assessor is estimating a 5.89% tax increase for an average homeowner. It’s higher than the 4.1% increase that voters heard at Annual Town Meeting. The change is based on a continued spike in residential property values while commercial property values remained flat. Member Sam Stivers noted that it may be time to consider a split-rate.

In the annual hearing, expect the the Assessor to update the Select Board on the assessed value of residential and commercial properties in Town, plus “new growth” for the year. He’ll share the calculated tax rate required to cover the fiscal year budget and the impact on average property owners.

He also generally presents a model for a potential split rate. His model has historically shown a big increase for businesses would result in a small discount for homeowners. Then he’ll share the Board of Assessor’s recommendation (which is always the single rate). The Select Board is then responsible for determining how tax rates will be set.

In September, resident Carl Guyer made his public case on this blog again for shifting to a split rate. (I don’t know if he or any other split rate advocates will attend on Tuesday. Based on history, I predict someone from the business community — like consistent single-rate advocate Chris Robbins — will be.) 

St. Mark’s Street Park Project

Last week, I wrote about the Select Board’s plans for a land ownership swap with St. Mark’s School. At the October 3rd meeting, Cook said she planned to discuss next steps on the project at the October 3rd meeting. Although the agenda specifies discussing the “next steps in completing pocket park”, I believe the Board plans to talk about the redirected street portion of the project as well.

One issue the Board will be discussing on Tuesday is whether construction on the project should resume before seeking approvals from Town Meeting voters.

A related Citizen’s Petition Article on Thursday night was indefinitely postponed. (Petitioner Debbie DeMuria made the request since her presentation would have begun after 11:40 pm, unless the Town ponied up to pay for a second night of Special Town Meeting for that Article alone.)

The petition would have pushed the Select Board to pursue a straight out donation of land from St. Mark’s School rather than a land swap. It wouldn’t have compelled the Board to act, but could have provided voters an opportunity to weigh in on how the Board should proceed. 

Since that didn’t happen, voters can instead participate in Tuesday’s meeting or make their opinions known to members in advance of it.

Public forums on the park design that were scheduled for prior to Special Town Meeting were rescheduled then cancelled. New dates have yet to be posted.

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