Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

November 21, 2013

Tax bills set to climb

New split rate will mean hikes across town

By Dustin Luca
dluca@andovertownsman.com

---- — Don’t get too comfortable with your property tax bill — it’s about to go up.

For residents, that means they could be shelling out between $354 and $365 — or 4.4 to 4.6 percent — more in property taxes next year.

The Board of Selectmen is expected to set the town’s 2014 tax rate for residential and commercial/industrial property at its next regular meeting, scheduled for Monday, Dec. 2.

Traditionally, the town has taxed commercial property at a higher rate than residential property. Next year will likely be no different. However, taxes are still increasing across the board for everyone.

Chief Assessor Dave Billard presented several options at Monday night’s Board of Selectmen’s meeting during the first reading of the tax classification vote.

Under tax classification, cities and towns are allowed to shift more of the property tax burden to commercial/industrial property owners by charging them at a higher rate than residential property owners. Under the so-called tax classification shift, commercial property owners can be charged up to 50 percent more on their tax rates than residential property owners, which would be expressed as a 150 shift.

The idea behind the tax classification law is to give homeowners a break at the expense of business owners, who are considered by some to be better able to afford higher bills.

Under one scenario proposed by Billard, using a tax shift of 147, residential taxes would see a 4.6 percent jump of around $365 — from $7,967 last year to $8,332 for the average single-family home, valued at $549,622.

Commercial taxes would be up 3.9 percent, from $48,291 to $50,171, for the average $1.98 million property. Industrial taxes would jump 6.3 percent, from $84,565 last year to $89,862, for the average $3.5 million industrial property.

In the case of a 147 shift, the residential property tax rate would be $15.16 per $1,000 of assessed value while the commercial-industrial rate would be $25.34 per $1,000.

Under a slightly different plan, using a shift of 148, taxpayers town-wide would see more level increases across the board, according to Billard.

For residents, the average bill would jump 4.4 percent, from $7,967 to $8,321 — or about $354. Commercial taxpayers would pay 4.3 percent more year to year, on average running from $48,291 to $50,349. Meanwhile, industrial taxpayers would pay 6.6 percent more, from $84,565 to $90,181 on average.

The board also looked at using a 146 percentage, which would give residents and industry near-equal tax bill increases of 5 and 5.2 percent respectively. Commercial taxpayers would see a 2.8 percent jump in the bill under that shift.

No matter what happens, Andover homeowners will continue paying the highest taxes in the Merrimack Valley.

In Methuen, the average annual tax bill for single-family homeowners is about $3,666 — less than half of what Andover pays. Haverhill homeowners are set to pay about $3,951 a year in property taxes. In North Andover, homeowners pay about $5,830 a year.

Joe Bevilacqua, president of the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce, urged Andover selectmen to consider lowering the tax burden for the local business community.

“Drive through any community, you’ll see abandoned storefronts, abandoned industrial buildings. It’s a sign of the times,” Bevilacqua said. “But setting the tax rate is where you can make a positive impact.”

Meanwhile, several residents who are regular attendees at selectmen’s meetings argued in favor of adopting the 148 shift, making sure the growing tax burden is felt equally throughout town.

“Commercial depends on the residents for their businesses. Residents shop downtown,” Cyr Circle resident Mary Carbone said. “Without the residents, there would be no business. People make business act.”

While saying he too supported the 148 shift, Whittier Street resident John Pasquale said he wasn’t concerned what was going on in the commercial and industrial sector when it’s a residential tax bill that comes in the mail.

“When I get my tax bill in front of me and I’m going down to pay in advance, I’m not interested in what commercial is doing or what industrial is doing,” he said. “They’re not next to me. I’m interested in what my wallet is doing.”

Not all communities use a split rate. Newburyport and Amesbury, for example, charge business and residential property owners at the same tax rate.