Taxes Up $97 for Average Homeowner
The selectmen approved new tax rates this week and the average homeowner in Danvers will see a $97 tax increase for 2011. Commercial properties will see a $1,011 hike on average.
Single-family homeowners in Danvers will be treated to a $97 hike, on average, in their property tax bills for the coming year. The average tax bill is now $4,669 for an average value home of $348,200.
The Board of Selectmen set the new residential and commercial rates earlier this week, taking into consideration a near 7 percent drop in home values while commercial and industrial properties have seen little change and maintain an average value of $1.31 million. At the same time, state aid is still on the decline and spending has increased to keep pace with personnel costs and debt service payments.
The Fiscal 2011 tax levy increased by more than $2 million, although about $800,000 in new tax growth offset steeper tax hikes.
"What we do here affects our pocketbooks too," said Selectman Gardner Trask. "This is an imperfect science; fairness is subjective."
Nevertheless, selectmen argued they were trying to be as fair as possible.
"It's not possible to please everybody," Selectman Bill Clark said.
Most of the handful of residents who spoke at the hearing on Tuesday agreed with that sentiment, complaining of the increasing burden on homeowners over the years. Several more in the audience voiced their support of such sentiments.
They largely wanted to see a greater burden of the tax levy placed upon the shoulders of businesses in town along with trimming the municipal budget.
"We have to be careful that we're not driving people out of Danvers because they can't afford to live here," said Lisa Austin.
Austin used to be able to afford her home on Bates Street, but then she was recently laid off from her job and is facing higher tax bills and other increased expenses – her home value also jumped 30 percent after a recent assessment adjustment. She's considering moving to save money.
"It's not just the stupid people who took out mortgages they couldn't afford," Austin said, adding foreclosure might be a real option soon.
"Maybe it's time to start living within our means as a town," she said.
Selectmen reminded the audience they couldn't do anything about the budget that night, as the levy needed for spending was approved at Town Meeting in May. Fiscal 2012, however, is open for discussion.
Brian Cranney, a local business owner and former resident, offered a different complaint.
He said the town was continually "killing its best customers" – its commercial businesses – by splitting the tax rate and effectively asking them to "subsidize" others' expenses.
"I can't see how you can call this fair," Cranney said.
A few residents claimed selectmen cared more about the interests of local businesses and political supporters than the average homeowner. Board members Keith Lucy and Clark hotly denied that, saying the classification process was only a matter of being fair to everyone.
Lucy said the board's goal for the past six to seven years has been to keep an "even-keeled" split on taxes (two-thirds to homeowners, one-third to businesses) between residential and commercial, unlike drastic swings in years past that seemed to be clearly politically motivated.
"How can this not be fair?" Lucy asked.
"If some of you critics don't like what we're doing, get up off your asses and run next year," Clark said.
Just the numbers
Danvers, along with its North Shore neighbors, uses tax classification, which allows the town to tax residents and businesses in order to more equitably distribute the tax burden.
The new residential rate is now $13.41 per $1,000 of assessed value while the CIP (commercial, industrial and personal property) is $18.69 per $1,000. That equals a 1.26 percent shift of the overall levy onto businesses. The classification factor was at 1.31 with a residential rate of $12.22 and a CIP rate of $17.92.
The shift can go as high as 1.5, easing the burden on homeowners to 60 percent of the total levy. If selectmen were so inclined on Tuesday, that would have hiked CIP taxes by 24 percent and cut the average single-family homeowners' taxes by 8 percent.
Several residents did ask for a 1.33 or 1.34 shift, but the board felt even that was too high.
The new rate approved on Tuesday means a $1,011 average hike for CIP from the average bill of $23,533 for this past year.
A report from Chief Assessor Marlene Locke earlier this month showed single-family homes were down 6.9 percent, condos 6.6 percent, multi-family homes 6 percent and apartment buildings with four or more units had decreased 1 percent in value. Valuations are based on sales figures as of this past January. Assessors looked at a two-year period for CIP in which only 12 sales were made.
Assessors were also quick to remind homeowners that a decrease in property values does not mean that tax bills will go down. As long as the budget continues to increase, so too does the tax levy while other large revenue sources are scarce.
The levy rose from $56 million to $58.3 million from Fiscal 2010.
Want to see the Assessors' report?
The report from Locke and the Board of Assessors is available publicly at Town Hall from the Assessors office or at the town Web site. Open the calendar and click on the link for the "Tax Classification Hearing."
If homeowners believe their assessed home value is too high, they can submit a request for an abatement to the Board of Assessors between Jan. 1 and Feb. 1, and if no satisfaction there, homeowners must then file an appeal with the state Appellate Tax Board.