Jean-Paul Plouffe, Westford principal assessor. WESTFORDCAT PHOTO

Selectmen Set Fiscal 2019 Tax Rate and Eliminate Discount for Small Commercial Properties

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Homeowners in Westford with an average priced house will pay about $400 more in property taxes this fiscal year than they did during fiscal 2018.

“The total taxable value of all property in town is just under $4.8 billion,” said Plouffe. “It’s an  increase from last year by about 2.2 percent. The estimated levy this year is $78 million.” Plouffe said this was an increase over the fiscal 2018 tax levy of $75 million.

The single tax rate of $16.56 per $1,000 of valuation was approved by selectmen on Nov. 13. The rate is 38 cents higher this fiscal year than last.

According to Principal Assessor Jean-Paul Plouffe, the assessed value of a single family home in Westford is $532,640 — a 2.35 percent jump over the fiscal 2018 assessed value of a single family house. Fiscal 2018 ended June 30.

Selectmen set a single tax rate and eliminated a 10 percent discount for commercial properties valued at under $1 million. They made their decision after receiving a report from members of the Tax Classification Research Committee. The group was asked to consider splitting the tax rate to put more of the burden on commercial and industrial properties. The members recommended against a split tax rate citing the possibility of creating a hostile, anti-business climate in town.

Residential property taxpayers would have benefited from a split rate. If commercial/industrial property owners were to pay 25 percent more in taxes, the tax rate for homeowners would decrease to $15.95 per $1,000 of valuation. A 50 percent shift would decrease residential property taxes to $15.33.

Selectmen did away with a 10 percent discount for commercial properties valued at under $1 million because, among other reasons, the research group noted that a commercial property valued at the same amount as a home valued at $520,000 (last year’s average priced house) would pay $747 less per year than the homeowner with an equal valued property.

Selectmen Tom  Clay who sat on the research committee explained why the group recommended against it.

“Most communities that do the small commercial exemption are trying to relieve the burden of the elevated tax rate that a split rate tax community will have,” he said.

This is typical, Clay said, in communities where the difference is large between what commercial and industry pay in taxes as compared to what residents pay.

“In that environment,” Clay said, “many communities  say…’I’m uncomfortable for these small communities to absorb this larger burden that over time we decided to assign to these businesses in our community.'”

But because Westford has a single tax rate, the commercial exemption caused the unintended consequence of allowing the owner of a commercial property valued under $1 million to pay less than a residential homeowner.

New Growth

The new growth value for fiscal 2019 is $45,746,700, up 84 percent from the previous fiscal year. The money generated $740,243 in revenue, up $408,857 from last fiscal year. The growth was attributed to building permits for new construction and home improvements and renovations, according to Plouffe.