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Williamstown Sets Fiscal 2024 Tax Rate
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
06:01AM / Thursday, September 14, 2023
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The property tax bill on a median single-family home in town is slated to rise by $187 in the current fiscal year.
That was one of the takeaways from Assessor Chris Lamarre's annual presentation to the Select Board at its tax classification hearing.
After the recent interim revaluation, the median single-family home value (the point at which half the residences are assessed lower and half are assessed higher) is $395,100, Lamarre reported. That will yield a tax bill of $5,986, up from $5,799 in the fiscal year that ended on June 30.
The total value of taxable property in town is up 11.3  percent in FY24, from $1.2 billion to $1.34 billion, with the biggest percentage rise in the residential sector, which saw an increase of 12.2 percent, to $1.2 billion.
At the same time, the tax levy — the total needed to support the spending authorized by town meeting in May — jumped 4.11 percent for FY24, to $20.3 million.
The increase in the levy was a little lower than the 4.35 percent rise in FY23. For context, the levy rose by 5.5 percent year to year in 2018 and 8 percent as recently as 2017.
Dividing the levy by the tax base yields a tax rate of $15.15 per $1,000 of valuation, down $1.02 from the FY23 rate of $16.17. In fact, due to the increase in property values, the tax rate fell for the fourth straight year (it was $17.30 per $1,000 in FY21), even though the levy has increased by $2.4 million in the same period.
After two years of declines, the town's excess levy capacity increased by 19 percent.
Lamarre presented the property value numbers and tax rate calculations as part of the board's annual tax classification. With the decisions made by the board on Monday, Town Hall can submit the town's Tax Rate Recapitulation Sheet or "Recap Sheet" to the Department of Revenue, which will approve the tax rate so property owners can receive their FY24 tax bills.
Excess levy capacity is the difference between a municipality's maximum allowable levy and the amount it takes in property taxes. In Williamstown's case, the excess levy capacity for FY24 is up from $2.4 million to $2.8 million.
As anticipated, one decision point during the hearing generated most of the discussion by board members and an overflow crowd in the meeting room. When the tax hearing ended, most of the crowd departed, and the board continued with a few other items on its agenda.
After watching the Select Board host a spirited back-and-forth on the pros and cons of the residential tax exemption, the newest member of town government offered a comment on how one institution can help inform those debates.
"I do think one interesting thing about having this part of the meeting after the last one is I think libraries play an important role in helping American towns not go down the road of being more and more divisive," Anna Halpin-Healy told the board. "I think libraries are a great anchor and bridge across the community."
Halpin-Healy appeared at a joint meeting of the Select Board and the trustees of the Milne Public Library. The two bodies needed to appoint a resident to fill the unexpired term of Trustee Charles Bonenti, who moved out of town.
Halpin-Healy is the business and operations manager at Cricket Creek Farm and has a background in retail and college development and alumni relations.
The Select Board members expressed their gratitude to Halpin-Healy for taking on the governance role at the library before a unanimous vote by both boards to appoint her to the vacancy. Bonenti's term was set to expire at the May 2024 town election, when Halpin-Healy will be able to stand for election in her own right.
In other business on Monday, the board learned that the Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Equity Committee is finalizing its proposal for a strategic plan to bring to the Select Board at its Sept. 25 meeting.
And it accepted an interim report from the ad hoc Charter Review Committee, which is aiming to use the fall to collect more feedback from residents before crafting any potential charter revisions to send to town meeting in May.
The interim report included the 509 responses the committee received from a townwide survey. Among the results: the overwhelming majority of respondents favored preserving the open town meeting style of government and a solid majority like the current balance of power between the Select Board and the town manager. A smaller majority, about 63 percent, favor creating a recall provision for elected town officials.
As for attendance at the town meeting, an oft-expressed concern of town officials, respondents cited "time conflicts and inconvenience" as the top reason to skip the annual spring gathering.
"We had a lot of interest in trying to make town meeting something where you don't have to show up in order to vote," Andrew Hogeland said. "That's a tricky thing to do. People really wanted a remote option or a ballot option. We'll see what we are allowed to do."
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