Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

December 5, 2013

Tax hike OK'd

Homeowners' bills to rise 4.7 percent

By Dustin Luca

---- — Tax bills are going up across the board in Andover — but it could have been worse, at least for residents.

The Board of Selectmen on Monday night voted a split tax rate that will see commercial and industrial property owners paying about $10 more per $1,000 in assessed property value than residents.

Under the new rate, residential taxes will go from $14.51 to $15.18 per $1,000 in assessed value, which will mean an increase of $376 in the tax bill for the average homeowner, who can expect to shell out $8,343 this fiscal year.

Commercial and industrial property owners will pay $25.25 per $1,000 in value, up from $24.26 last year. The average commercial tax bill will rise $1,702 to $49,993, while the average industrial bill will increase $4,978 to $89,543.

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.

Selectmen this week approved a 147 tax classification shift by a 3-2 vote, with Chairman Alex Vispoli and Selectman Brian Major opposed.

Early discussion from the board was for a 146 classification shift, which would have increased the average residential tax bill an additional $22, while lowering commercial bills by $337 and industrial tax bills by $603.

Major said he supported the 146 shift because residential bills would have seen a 5 percent increase, while industrial bills would have seen a 5.2 percent increase.

Selectman Dan Kowalski rejected the proposal, however, saying that while the 146 shift “keeps your residential and industrial close,” but only places a 2.8 percent increase on commercial tax bills, creating a lopsided situation.

“Your commercial (tax base) represents half a billion dollars of your tax base,” Kowalski said. “Having a 2.8 percent increase for your commercial (taxpayers) seems nonequitable.”

Looking at the numbers a different way, Selectman Paul Salafia arrived at a solution that ultimately received majority support from both Kowalski and Selectman Mary Lyman.

Under the 147 shift, commercial tax bills stand for a 3.5 percent increase while industrial bills will see a 5.9 percent increase — the average of which is 4.7 percent. That is equal to the 4.7 percent increase seen by residential bills under that shift, according to Salafia.

Both Major and Vispoli said they supported the “stronger level of parity” seen in the 146 shift, but Vispoli ultimately said the difference from one to another was negligible in the end.

“At the end of the day, they’re all pretty close to each other,” he said.

With the vote supporting the 147 shift, selectmen also took up three discount and exemption votes that come up annually with the tax classification shift discussion.

The three votes were on percentage discounts for residential property with open space and two other measures that would offer up to a 10 percent exemption on commercial or residential bills. All three votes were set at zero percent, effectively having no effect.