By Beth David, Editor
The Acushnet Selectboard held off on voting for the FY2023 tax rate at its meeting on 10/25/22, to get more information. Principal Assessor Kelly Koska told the board that the Board of Assessors recommended changing the shift between the residential and commercial rates to 150%, up from 125%, which is the maximum shift Acushnet is allowed (based on a state formula).
Due to the sharp rise in valuations for residential properties, Ms. Koska said that staying at the current 125% shift would result in a larger increase for homeowners than businesses. She said commercial properties have not seen the sharp increase in values as homes have.
If the same shift is kept, the average homeowner will see an increase of $282.52 in their property tax bill. Home values went up from an average single family home at $344,800 last year, to $394,000 this year. If the town switches to a 150% shift, the increase on home owners will be $117.04 for the average home.
At the current 125% shift, the increase on commercial properties would be $110.86; at the 150% shift, it would be $1,204.39.
If the town chooses to stay with the 125% shift, the tax rate goes down from $13.27 to $12.33 per $1,000 of valuation, but because of higher property values, the end result is a larger bill. On the commercial side, the drop would be from $17.18 to $15.94. If the town chooses a single tax rate it would be $12.75.
If the town chooses the 150% shift, the residential tax rate would be $11.91 per $1,000 resulting in the $117.04 average increase. Commercial rate would go from $17.18 per $1,000 to $18.12/1000.
SB member Kevin Gaspar said it scared him to go to the maximum allowed shift because the town would not have any flexibility.
“It scares the hell out of me,” said Mr. Gaspar, noting the volatility in the market and the uncertainty of what comes next.
Ms. Koska and Board of Assessors member Robert Brown told the board that the shift is only for one year. They can change it next year.
Mr. Gaspar said he was worried a recession would hit and property values would go down and the town would have no leeway if they are already at the maximum.
The board decided to hold off on a vote and continue the tax classification hearing to Tuesday, 11/1. Board members will have time to meet with Ms. Koska individually to learn more about the intricacies of the tax levy, how it is calculated, etc.
Ms. Koska requested that in the future board members get more information from her office before the tax classification hearing so she is not questioned in quite the same manner in a televised open session hearing.
She said it puts her in a “compromising situation.”
“I think what you are doing is the right thing,” said SB chairperson David Wojnar, adding the town needs to be more business friendly with zoning, etc.
Mr. Brown said none of the assessors is happy about the 150% shift, but they feel it is necessary.
Mr. Gaspar told Ms. Koska that he was not questioning the integrity of her work, but that he needed more information because he was a little confused on the numbers.
The board also heard from the Mass. Department of Environmental Protection, which outlined a process for designating “Nitrogen Sensitive Areas” (NSA) that could result in a staggering amount of work and cost for the town and residents.
If the town is considered to be in an NSA, the town will be required to limit the nitrogen going into the estuaries, or any feeders to estuaries. Nitrogen is most often the result of fertilizer and septic systems. So the town would have to provide sewer to more of the town, or individual homeowners would have to upgrade their septic systems.
The town could also get a Watershed Permit, which would allow for more flexibility.
State officials told the board that the comment period will open up in the middle of November for 30 days, and then they will adopt the regulations January.
“That seems to be an aggressive time frame,” said Mr. Wojnar, asking if it was “truly” a comment period or just “window dressing.”
Right now, the town is not in a designated Nitrogen Sensitive Area.
Gerard Martin, of MassDEP’s Southeast Regional Office, said Acushnet’s NSA designation is “down the road.”
First they need to find out if there is nitrogen impairment, then designate the NSA.
If town residents are required to upgrade their septic systems, the state is offering low interest loans that would go through the town as a betterment.
“I am concerned about this becoming a solution in search of a problem,” said Mr. Wojnar, adding he hoped it would be a “high burden of proof” if they are contributing nitrogen.
“This will be an unfunded mandate,” said Mr. Wojnar. “Our taxpayers and residents are being forced to take on an additional cost they can ill afford.”
He noted that they just had a big discussion about the increase in property taxes.
“They are under the gun right now,” said Mr. Wojnar.
SB member Bob Hinckley asked the cost of the average system to mitigate the nitrogen and the longevity of the systems.
Mary Beth Chubb, from DEPs Boston office said there are newer technologies that are considered “provisional,” and they cost $20,000 to $35,000. She said she did not know about longevity because the systems are new.
Mr. Martin said DEP would work with the town and would take all the comments into consideration as they create the draft regulations.
The comment period, he said, is “not window dressing.”
Ms. Chubb said the evaluation has not happened yet. The town will be responsible for hiring contractors to determine the nitrogen load. She said the town will not be left on its own, and they will not be surprised by a sudden designation.
“It’s not an overnight thing,” she said.
The comment period is not open yet, but information is available on the website at https://www.mass.gov/regulations/310-CMR-15000-septic-systems-title-5
Click here to download the entire 10/27/22 issue: 10-27-22 Encampment
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