Published in the October 25, 2016 edition.
By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — Property taxes will go up this year – but not as much as they could have. The Board of Selectmen last night voted to increase the tax levy by only 1.5 percent rather than the full 2.5 percent allowed by law.
That action will result in a reduction of $0.12 in the residential tax rate and a savings of $60 on the average residential tax bill compared to what it would have been if the tax levy went up the full amount allowed.
On the commercial/industrial property (CIP) side, the decision means a $0.24 reduction on the tax rate and a savings of $300 for the average business property.
The decision on the tax rate came during the Board of Selectmen’s annual tax classification hearing.
Director of Assessments Victor Santaniello reviewed the relevant data and information in a presentation last night.
As it has traditionally done, the board also chose the maximum allowable shift factor in order to give residential taxpayers the lowest share of the tax burden allowed by state law. That means that the residential tax rate will be $13.03 per $1,000 of valuation. For commercial properties, the rate will be $25.95 per $1,000 of valuation.
With that maximum allowable shift, the FY 2017 tax bill will be $6,147 on the average single-family home in Wakefield valued at 471,800. The tax bill on the average commercial property (valued at $1,241,100) will be $32,206.
The decision to go to the maximum shift results in a savings of $850 on the average single-family home’s tax bill compared to what it would have been without the shift.
Santaniello said that the average single-family home value in Wakefield rose 7.1 percent from $440,400 in FY 2016 to $471,800 in FY 2017.
The residential tax rate went down $0.46 from $13.49 in FY 2016 to $13.03 in FY 2017. The average residential tax bill will see an increase of $206 (3.46 percent) from $5,941 in FY 2016 to $6,147 in FY 2017.
On the CIP side, the average commercial property value increased from $1,176,700 in FY 2016 to $1,241,100 (5.5 percent). The CIP tax rate went down from $27.03 in FY 2016 to $25.95 a drop of 5.5 percent. The average commercial tax bill will go up $400 (1.26 percent.
Santaniello noted that FY 2017 is the third year of the full impact of the debt exclusion for the Galvin Middle School on local tax bills. The debt exclusion adds $2,423,350 to the FY 2017 total tax levy, Santaniello said. It adds $0.47 to the residential tax rate or $222 to the average single-family home’s tax bill.
The Galvin debt exclusion adds $0.94 to the CIP tax rate, or $1,167 to the average commercial property’s tax bill, Santaniello said.
Santaniello also compared Wakefield’s tax rate and average single-family home tax bill with those of surrounding contiguous communities. Lynnfield’s average single-family home tax bill was highest at $8,921 in FY 2016; Reading at $7,242 was also higher than Wakefield. Coming in lower than Wakefield were Saugus ($4,245), Stoneham ($5,526) and Melrose ($5,746).
Chairman Patrick Glynn said that the fact that the town was in a position to go up less than the full amount on the tax levy and give the taxpayers a break was due to the town’s healthy reserves. He said that he didn’t know of any other municipality in the state that was doing it. Some communities, he noted, are looking at overrides just for operating costs.
Selectman Brian Falvey noted that the town went to the taxpayers for the money to build a new middle school, and now the town was in a position to give some of it back.
Selectman Phyllis Hull said that she understood that the town has needs but praised the decision to go with the lower tax rate. “We really need to think about the taxpayers,” Hull said.
As has been their annual practice, the selectmen declined to offer an “open space discount.” Santaniello noted that the board has never voted a discount for open space because no properties in town have been identified that fit the definition under applicable sections of Massachusetts General Laws.
Similarly, the board chose not to adopt a residential exemption. Santaniello explained that only a handful of communities in the state have adopted it, including Boston, Cambridge, Chelsea and Brookline. He said that it shifts more of the tax burden to the 21 percent of homes valued at more than $540,300.
The selectmen also chose not to offer a small commercial exemption. Santaniello said that the Assessing Department was unaware of any businesses in town that would meet the requirements to qualify for this exemption.