Published in the November 23, 2016 edition


NORTH READING — The town’s new property tax rate for fiscal 2017 was determined by a vote of the Board of Selectmen Monday night and will be $16.13 per thousand valuation, a modest drop of 28 cents per thousand. This is an estimated rate, subject to certification by the state Department of Revenue.

It’s the second year in a row the tax rate as declined slightly, but the value of the “average” residential property held steady at $502,121, meaning the tax bill for an average residential home will be about $8,200.

Acting at their legally required tax classification and rate setting hearing, the Selectmen also decided to maintain a single tax rate for all residential, commercial and industrial properties. Only twice in the past has North Reading “split” the tax rate, in 1985 and 1988.

The annual decision on whether to tax business and commercial property at a higher rate than residential usually involves careful consideration by the board members and detailed presentations from Chief Assessor Deb Carbone and Finance Director Liz Rourke as well as input from residents and local business owners.

All of that was true this year except for the final factor – public input. For the first time in recent memory, not one local resident or business owner attended the hearing to speak in favor or against splitting the tax rate.

As explained by Carbone, North Reading “is definitely a bedroom community,” with 87.9 percent of all taxable property classified as residential as opposed to only 12.1 percent as commercial or industrial. The town’s fiscal 2017 tax levy – the total amount of revenue a community can raise through real and personal property taxes – will be $47,342,229, about $6,000 less than the legal limit.

There are 5,085 total residential properties in town, Carbone explained. This includes 4,258 single family homes, 755 residential condominiums and 72 multi family (up to five or more units). The law allows the Selectmen three options in splitting the tax rate, shifting the tax burden away from homes and on to businesses by 10, 25 or 50 percent.

If Selectmen had shifted the tax rate 10 percent, the commercial rate would have been $17.74 per thousand while the residential would have gone from $16.13 down to $15.91. A 25 percent shift would have resulted in a residential rate of $15.57 and commercial would have jumped to $20.16. The maximum shift of 50 percent would have yielded a residential rate of $15.01 and commercial would have increased to $24.20.

In a series of 4–0 votes, (with Stephen O’Leary recusing himself from the hearing), the Selectmen opted to:

• Tax all property in town – residential, commercial and industrial – at the same rate.

• Against establishing a residential tax exemption of up to 20 percent that would shift the tax burden within the residential property class from lower–assessed properties that are the principal residence of a taxpayer to higher–assessed properties that are not the principal residence of a taxpayer. This required little discussion because the Selectmen gave lengthy consideration to the exemption just two weeks ago.

• Not to establish a small commercial exemption of up to 10 percent that works in much the same way as the residential, shifting more of the tax burden to higher–valued commercial and industrial properties.

• To set the fiscal 2017 total property tax levy at $47,342,229, which is $6,360 less than the legal limit.

• The Selectmen “recommended” to the Board of Assessors that fiscal 2017 tax rate be set at $16.13 per every $1,000 valuation.

Once the tax rate is approved by the Department of Revenue, all tax bills will be in the mail before Jan. 1.