SHIRLEY -- At the annual tax classification hearing Monday night, selectmen again adopted the "Residential Factor of 1" option recommended by the Board of Assessors to maintain the town's single tax rate.
Although there are four options available that would shift the tax burden from residential to commercial/industrial and personal property taxpayers, the assessors do not recommend any of them, Principal Assessor Rebecca Boucher said.
Because less than 11 percent of the town's tax base is commercial, a split tax rate in which businesses pay a higher percentage than homeowners would hurt one side without significantly helping the other, she explained.
Specifically, a two-tiered tax structure that would reduce annual residential tax bills by $225, maximum, would increase commercial/industrial and personal property tax bills by $2,500 at least, and in some instances by as much as $25,000, Boucher said.
"Many small businesses do a lot to help the town" and their generosity might be curtailed if they had less discretionary cash to spend after taxes, Boucher posited. Thus, the assessors are asking the selectmen to adopt the recommended structure, she said.
Assessors Chairman Ron Marchetti elaborated, recalling that his board came to the selectmen two years ago to discuss initiatives to grow the town's commercial footprint. "You formed the Economic Development Committee," as a result, he said, and although nobody expected overnight change, the goal is a long-term effort and still key to the town's future. "We could have very different conversations" in a few years, he said.
"We are starting to see more small business," Selectman David Swain said.
Chairman Kendra Dumont agreed that continuing the town's single tax rate was the best bet to keep the trend moving forward. "We want to bring in business," she said.
Citing the long-range target the assessors envisioned when the EDC was formed, Marchetti said that with a value of $100 million in the commercial/industrial sector, the town could reap an added $1.5 million in revenue each year. In that case, "we'd have a lot more wiggle room" in the budget to cover operations, services and schools, he said.
Boucher later told the Shirley Oracle that in that hypothetical scenario, a split tax rate of say, 80/20 between the commercial/industrial and residential sectors would make sense, with a larger business base to share the burden and more benefit to residential tax payers.
Paging through her Power Point presentation (also available on the assessors' web site) Monday night, Boucher touched on a few other points of interest.
For example, 65 percent of the town's total revenue now comes from taxes, compared to 37 percent 10 years ago, when she first started on the job.
And although property values dropped, average tax bills will go up this year. That's how the tax levy is calculated, she explained, with a formula geared to fill the gap. "It's an adjustment to compensate," based on Town Meeting expenditures, she said.
A chart on page four of the report shows the average value of a home in town was $290,000 in 2010. Now, it's $250,000. But the average tax bill rose from $3,500 to $4,206 in that time period.
Reminding everybody that it's still an estimate until the Department of Revenue certifies it, Boucher said the fiscal tax rate would be $16.75 for every thousand dollars in property value, up from $15.65 last year. Conceding that it "may seem high," Boucher said Shirley's tax rate is lower than in some other area towns.
Dividing Town Revenue
Using an illustration of a dollar bill as a pie chart, the next page showed how taxpayer dollars are spent in town, with categories denoting services listed in the budget.
The lion's share, or 55 cents out of every dollar, is spent on education; in this case, the town's annual assessment for the Ayer-Shirley Regional School District. General insurance and employee benefits cut 13 cents from the same dollar, while 12 cents is spent on public safety. Nine cents goes to general government, four cents toward miscellaneous debt, another four cents to public works, two cents to cultural events and recreation, with the last penny spent on health and human services.