Jodi Ross on Nov. 18, 2014

Selectmen Maintain Status Quo With Tax Rate

The following is a portion of a transcript from the Nov. 18 Westford Board of Selectmen meeting. For other parts of the meeting, click here.

7:38 p.m. – Next on the agenda was a classification of taxable property for FY’ 15.

Westford Town Assessor Paul Plouffe began a presentation.

Westford’s valuation date for the upcoming fiscal year is Jan. 1, and the town uses all property sales for the calendar year of 2013 to determine a baseline.

Overall, the town’s cumulative property value has gone up by 6.9 percent during 2014.

There was also $1.8 million in new taxable property value growth, topping $1.7 million in 2013.

Much of the new value came from new condominiums and some new commercial properties as well as the beginning of Princeton Apartments on Littleton Road.

Princeton Apartments overall is worth $25 million in value and the final lots in Cornerstone Square were rented out.

Jodi Ross on Nov. 18, 2014

Jodi Ross on Nov. 18, 2014

There is also some small residential sub-division, with some selling for over $1 million.

This year the town is looking at a single residential tax rate of $16.24 per $1,000 of property value, down from $16.60 last year and described how that figure was determined.

The overall tax levy is also up this year as well as the average value of a home (now at $464,442).

Plouffe says the average tax bill be around $7,500, or approximately $230 more than FY’ 14.

At this point, Hazelton had phone issues.

Plouffe said the Selectmen can consider a split tax rate. A split tax rate diverts some of the residential tax rate onto commercial, industrial and personal (CIP) property in town.

Right now CIP property represents 15 percent of total property value in town.

The small commercial exemption has been applied by the Board of Selectmen since 2003, and it applies to commercial properties valued at under $1 million generally with 10 employees or less.

What the exemption does is that the burden is shifted onto larger commercial properties and all industrial properties.

With the exemption, the commercial and industrial tax rate would be $16.44 per thousand dollars of property value while residential and personal property would remain at $16.24.

Selectman Andrea Peraner-Sweet praised Plouffe for his conciseness, as Plouffe has become an expert at this particular presentation over the past few years. The Selectmen had no questions.

Plouffe said there are three options to be considered.

  1. A single tax rate: all properties get the $16.24 rate
  2. A split tax rate: A part of the residential burden goes over to CIP
  3. A single tax rate with a small commercial exception: Single tax rate except for industrial properties and commercial properties over $1 million in value. Those two types of properties would have a $16.44 rate to make up for a 10 percent reduction for commercial properties under $1 million in value.

Plouffe said the board will have to decide on a single tax rate and decide if there will be a small commercial exception.

Peraner-Sweet said that the single rate with a small commercial exception has done well since its adoption in 2003.

Dennis Rhona of Sassafras Road asked what the impact would be for home owners if the split rate came in and asked if the rate would go down 15 percent.

Plouffe said he was unsure where the 15 percent came from, that 15 percent talked about CIP properties.

He said a five percent shift from residential to CIP would drop the residential rate to $16.09 and later said the commercial rate would go up to $17.05.

Plouffe asked for more specific information at Town Meeting, but said it wasn’t vital.

Tom Barry of Stone Ridge Road and the Economic Development Committee said the split tax rate versus a single tax rate will be examined and a single tax rate is a major benefit in attracting new business to Westford.

Plouffe gave a $500,000 commercial property as an example. Without the exemption, they’d pay $8,120 in taxes. With the exemption, they’d pay $7,398.

For a commercial property of $1.5 million, they’d pay around $300 more a year in taxes with the exemption.

Barry reiterated that his group’s job is to market Westford as a business friendly town and tax rates are a priority for incoming businesses.

Plouffe said that since 2003 there has been a single tax rate, only with an exemption. He added that Westford has low taxes compared to other towns.

Ross saw the removal of the exemption as a tax hike for the numerous small businesses in town.

Plouffe said 233 of the 260 commercial properties qualify under the exemption.

Siriani indicated that he is a huge fan of economist Barry Bluestone in large part due to his advocacy for municipalities and sustainable growth. He echoed Peraner-Sweet in terms of keeping stability, calling the current system a balanced one that is easily understood.

Siriani said that there needs to be a system in place that provides services that makes this a good community.

Peraner-Sweet made a motion to adopt a single tax rate. It passed 4-0-0.

She also made a motion to adopt an exemption of 10 percent. It passed 4-0-0.