If the town sets its tax rate, and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound?
The answer is: yes, just not until the next property tax bills arrive, and then only on social media.
The Board of Selectmen on Monday night undertook the annual task of setting the town’s tax rate, an exercise that’s part high school calculus class, and part bureaucratic ritual.
Assessor Jolanta Briffett meticulously walked the Board through the complicated state formula cities and towns must use to determine its annual tax rate. It features a whole bunch of exponents and variables and coefficients and constants such as previous year tax levies and new growth figures and prior override votes and levy limits. And then, depending if a community elects to tax commercial and residential property at different rates, there’s a whole ‘nother set of calculations to perform.
So every year Briffett’s team inputs all the inputs into this equation and out pops a number: this year, that number is $13.35. And that’s the tax rate that the Board of Selectmen approved Monday night.
The average residential tax bill will increase from $7,076 to $7,355.
For Fiscal Year 2023 the average single-family assessment was $497,978 and commercial was $972,801.
For Fiscal Year 2024 the average single-family assessment is $550,979 and commercial is $ 1,087,678.
Splitting the tax rate allows communities to shift some of the tax burden off of residents and onto businesses. Traditionally, this only happens in communities with sizeable commercial tax bases. Think Boston, Quincy, and Braintree.
Abington’s commercial tax base — even with multiple big box stores — is slightly less than 8 percent.
This gets into one of the flaws with Proposition 2 1/2, the state law that limits the amount municipalities can increase property taxes. It caps at 2.5 percent the amount a community can raise property taxes year over year (not including new growth and overrides, and a few other carveouts). However that cap is on total combined collections, not a cap per property class (residential, commercial, industrial, and personal).
As we know, residential, commercial, and industrial property valuations aren’t locked together and can experience unique fluctuations based on market conditions. When housing prices tanked between 2009-2011, commercial property values remained steady, for example. This can result in naturally occurring shifts in the tax burden.
We’re seeing one of these shifts today. Residential property assessments have skyrocketed in recent years, way faster than commercial values. As Abington News reported last month, the total valuation of the town’s residential property has increased from $33.2 billion in 2020 to $36.5 billion in 2023. Over that same period, the total valuation of the town’s commercial properties has DECREASED from $3.27 billion to $3.11 billion. That means the town’s tax burden has appreciably shifted more onto homeowners.
As a way to further demonstrate this shift, Abington News randomly selected five different types of commercial businesses in town and five different types of residential properties, and estimated their property tax bills. (Out of fairness, because they haven’t done anything wrong, we are witholding the actual business name and property address)
As this shows, depreciated valuations combined with lower tax rates means all five commercial properties likely saw a double digit drop in their property tax bills between 2021 and 2023. At the same time, three out of five residential properties likely are paying more in property taxes as higher valuations countered the lower tax rates.
The market for multi-unit residential complexes appears to be less robust than exists for single-family or even two-family homes. Abington News looked at the valuations of five multi-unit apartment complexes of various sizes. In each instance, the properties realized single digit valuation increases over the past three years, which when combined with the reduced tax rate, resulted in a smaller tax bill in 2023 versus 2021.
This is a long way of saying that the Board of Selectmen felt some pressure Monday night to consider a split tax rate.
However, the commercial tax base on Abington is so much smaller compared to the residential tax base that in order to save homeowners 6 percent on their tax bills taxes on businesses would have to be hiked by 50 percent, according to Briffett. That was a pricetag too steep for selectmen Monday night, and they voted unanimously to keep the single rate across all classes.
Nobody from the public spoke out for or against the tax rate. Nobody spoke out for or against the single classification rate. There was only a handful of people in attendance for the 31-minute meeting and most were there for other agenda items.
The new tax rate will be reflected on the Q3 and Q4 tax bills.
ABINGTON NEWS BOWLING TOURNEY TO BENEFITS JACOBS SCHOLARSHIP FUND
Abington News is once again sponsoring its annual community bowling tournament as part of the upcoming Abington Celebrates Christmas Weekend. The Holiday Ball Bowling Tournament will be held Sunday, Dec. 10 at Webster Timber Lanes. Bowlers of all ages and abilities are invited to participate.Proceeds this year will benefit the Jen Jacobs Recreation Scholarship Fund. The top kid and non-league bowlers will receive trophies. The overall winner will win a $200 cash prize. Cost is $20 for adults and $15 for kids. Bowlers can register through candlepin.com
APD LOOKING FOR YELLOW CAB SEMI THAT PARTLY DUMPED LOAD ON RT. 18
Abington police are looking for the driver of a semi end dump truck that lost part of its sludgy load on Rt.18 Tuesday morning, forcing the roadway to close down for an emergency cleanup. Just after 8:30 a.m., the semi stopped quickly in the southbound traveling lane of Rt. 18 near Sarcastic Swine, according to Abington police. The stop caused part of its load to spill out onto the pavement below. The truck then continued on its journey to points unknown. Public Works Director John Stone said his crew responded with a front end loader and scooped up the mess. Traffic was detoured off Route 18 for a while until MassDOT determined the road was clean enough to reopen. Meanwhile, police were chasing down leads trying to find the driver. According to a post on the Abington Police Facebook page, surveillance video from a nearby business recorded the incident. Police say the video shows a yellow diesel can hauling a silver or gray semi end dump trailer. The name of the company is not clearly visible and police are asking for help from the public to identify the truck, company, and driver.
[UPDATE: Police say they have identified the company and driver. No word on whether the driver will be cited.]
ABINGTON JOINS CONSORTIUM STUDYING MWRA WATER MEMBERSHIP
A collection of South Shore towns are joining forces to evaluate whether they should join the MWRA water system, Town Manager Scott Lambiase told selectmen Monday night.
Abington, along with Rockland, Hingham, Cohasset, Scituate, and Norwell, are chipping in to conduct a preliminary study that will take a look at regional needs, existing water infrastructure, projected costs, and other factors. Abington’s share of the study is about $20,000 and will be paid by the Abington/Rockland Joint Water Works.
Many towns across the South Shore are struggling with water issues, including limited capacity, PFAS contamination, aging treatment plants, and other quality issues. In addition, the Southfield Redevelopment Authority, which controls Union Point, also needs to find a water source to support millions of square feet of anticipated development.
The Water Works is about to launch a $30 million treatment plant improvement project. Lambiase said conducting the study doesn’t commit the town to joining the MWRA, but will give the town possible options down the road, including making the MWRA the town’s sole water source, using it to supplement the existing water supply, or keeping a connection on reserve in case of an emergency.
The MWRA currently makes more high-quality H2O than it can use, according to state officials, and it is inviting Greater Boston area communities to consider joining the system. Although the agency has temporarily waived connection fees, which can run in the millions of dollars, new member towns would have to finance construction of a new main trunk line down to the area, which would also cost several millions of dollars.
Even if Abington decided tomorrow it wanted to join the MWRA, the lengthy application, permitting, and construction process means the official switchover wouldn’t happen for at least several years.
CURTAIN UP ON AHS DRAMA CLUB PRODUCTION THURSDAY
The Abington High School Drama will present “Radium Girls” on Thursday, Nov. 16 and Friday, Nov. 17 at 7:00 p.m. in the AHS/AMS Auditorium. According to club advisor Megan Tomlin, “Radium Girls” tells the story of the women in the early 20th Century who worked in factories painting supplies for the war effort with little awareness of the dangers of the radium involved. The director is Presley Mahanna, a science teacher at AHS.
Tickets are $5 for students/seniors and $8 for adults. All seats are general admission. (Notice: Some content may not be appropriate for young audiences.
AHS Drama’s cast of Radium Girls. Photo by Bill Marquardt/c6billphoto.com