Meanwhile, Marden said, the town is taxing residents nearly up to the levy limit, which is the maximum amount that can be taxed under Proposition 21/2. This year, she said, the town is about $300,000 shy of the levy limit, which is about $117.8 million.
Adding further to the increase is that the December tax bill reflects the actual taxes owed by residents and businesses, while tax bills in the fall are estimated.
All of those factors, she said, have created a sense of sticker shock for Andover residents, some of whom are on fixed incomes but many more of whom are simply struggling to pay their bills.
“When that happens,” she said, “people react.”
“It’s something around town,” she said. “You just get a feeling there are more people talking about it. There are discussions about the needs of an aging population. Do we want to make sure our seniors can stay in town?”
Finance Committee member Linn Anderson agreed, noting that tax increases are compounded year over year.
“That cumulative increase will have demographic significance on who can afford to live in our community,” she said.
Schools to blame?
Marden said that while the cost of the Bancroft School did cause taxes to go up, debt payments like that are actually lower than they were 10 years ago.
She and Landry agree that the real culprit is personnel costs, including benefits such as health insurance.
“It’s the operating budget,” she said. “It’s personnel costs. That’s where the big bucks are.”
Marden and others in Town Hall say the School Department is to blame for most of the cost increases from year to year.
A chart in the Finance Committee’s report from last year showed that there are 872 full-time employees in the School Department while there are just 351 employed in town departments. Moreover, over the last 10 years, the number of town employees has remained level, even dropping a little, while the number of school employees has risen by nearly 200 people.