Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

News

February 6, 2014

Tax bill alarm sounds

Residents fighting back against rising costs

A growing number of people in town have begun questioning municipal spending habits and whether community leaders have written checks that taxpayers can no longer afford.

During a recent Finance Committee meeting, 30-year member Joanne Marden said residents have reached the limit of what they are willing to shell out in property taxes.

“People in the community are upset about their taxes,” she said. “I wonder whether we have reached a tipping point.”

She and others say that growing debt, new hiring in the schools, skyrocketing health insurance costs and a huge pension obligation are creating an unsustainable situation for residents and business owners struggling to keep their heads above water.

Add on the tax burden of large municipal projects like the $45 million Bancroft Elementary School, and some people are crying uncle.

In fact, a dozen or so local residents have proposed a warrant article for the Annual Town Meeting in May that would impose a freeze on property taxes for people age 70 and older.

Bob Landry, of 4 Seminole Circle, who runs a website that keeps an eye on town spending, blamed high taxes on the growing number of municipal employees combined with generous health benefits packages and skyrocketing health insurance costs.

“Projects don’t make up the largest portion of the tax bills,” he said. “It’s the operating budget. It’s personnel and health insurance.”

Tax bills

In late December, tax bills went out that reflected the true cost of living in Andover. The average tax bill went up nearly 5 percent over last year, and now tops $8,000. Those bills — as well as applications for abatements — were due Monday.

Most noticeably, taxpayers were hit with the first half of the payment on the Bancroft School project. About 44 percent of the cost of the school is being paid for by the state, but the rest — nearly $30 million — is being borne by taxpayers over the next 20 years through a so-called debt-service override. That raised the average tax bill by about $100 a year. Next year’s bill is going up by the same amount to pay for Bancroft.

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