At tonight’s annual tax classification hearing, the Board of Selectmen voted to keep the residential and commercial tax rate split at 1.22. The tax classification determines what percentage of the total property tax burden will be carried by residents versus businesses.

Auburn has had a dual tax rate since 1988.  The Board of Selectman, at the urging of Auburn business leaders, had been steadily narrowing the difference between what businesses and residents pay, with the goal being to eventually realize a single tax rate.  From 2009-2013, the Boards of Selectmen reduced the shift  incrementally each year.  However, last fall the Selectmen left the shift unchanged at 1.22. Auburn and Worcester are the only area communities with a dual tax rate for business and residential property.

Mark Sarkisian, Jr. speaks at last night's tax classification hearing (11/9/15. Jeff LaBonte photo)

Mark Sarkisian, Jr. speaks at last night’s tax classification hearing (11/9/15. Jeff LaBonte photo)

To open the tax classification hearing, Auburn assessor, Cynthia Cosgrove, and Assistant Assessor, Mary Oliver, gave a presentation explaining the purpose of the classification hearing. Oliver did most of the speaking, as Cosgrove is recovering from a cold.

“The tax classification determines how we shift the tax burden between property classes” explained Oliver. “This does not determine the tax rate or how much can be raised.”

This year’s tax rate is bumped by an additional $.058 as a result of the debt exclusions for the new middle school and the acquisition of the Southold Rd. property. The average Auburn residential tax bill will rise about $261, or 6.26%, according to the Assessor’s presentation.  For this fiscal year, the property tax rate per $1,000 in assessed value is $17.26 for homeowners and $23.26 for businesses.

Representatives from the Auburn Chamber of Commerce urged the Board to reduce the residential-commercial rate shift from its current 1.22 to 1.1. Mark Sarkisian, Jr., owner of Capitol Siding and longtime Auburn resident said, “Moving to this shift [1.1] is really a win-win. It reduces the commercial rate, keeps the small commercial exemption, and has minimal impact on the residential taxes.”

Phil Joinville of Hampton St. spoke on behalf of the residential taxpayers, urging the Board to keep shift at the current 1.2. “One question I have is why can’t residential taxes stay the same, and just have commercial come down?”

Selectman Steve Simonian commented “This is my sixth tax classification hearing, and it seems to become a business versus residents, and it shouldn’t be. We can find the money to support a golf course but we can’t find the money to reduce the commercial tax rate.” Simonian stated the only classification he would support would be a single tax rate.

Selectman Dan Carpenter agreed with Simonian. “It’s not business versus residents” he said. “But I have a hard time looking at taxes and saying residents should bear more burden. I am going to support staying at 1.2. I could never support going to 1 to 1 [single tax rate] immediately. It would devastate many homeowners”.

“We are not going backward” said Selectman Doreen Goodrich. “Even if we stay at 1.2. We have improved roads, public safety, schools the permitting process…the Town Manager works closely with the business community. We’re still moving in the right direction, not backward.”

Ultimately, Selectmen voted 4-1 to hold the classification at the current 1.22 shift for fiscal 2016.

Illegal Logging?

In other business, the Selectmen heard complaints from residents of Elizabeth Way with concerns about a resident receiving a permit for logging operations on his 20+ acre property. Residents asserted that the logging would violate the covenant of the Deer Track Estates development, that the property owner – Paul Raffa – did not properly notify abutters within 200 feet of the area to be cleared, and that the logging constituted a commercial activity, prohibited under Auburn zoning laws .

According to Town Manager Julie Jacobson, the logging permit is issued by the state, not the Town. She also explained that the logging falls under “extensive use” not commercial use per Town zoning laws. As for the covenants, those would need to be addressed through whatever remedies were stipulated in the covenants, or potentially in land court.

Further confounding the situation is that the property owned by Raffa – variously numbered 16, 18  and 23 Elizabeth Dr – is located in Auburn, Oxford and Millbury, so jurisdiction becomes a question. No action was taken by Selectmen on the item.

Bad Dogs

Selectmen heard a nuisance dog complaint.  According to Det. Sgt. Richard Mills and Animal Control Officer Aimee Contois, two husky-like dogs named Molly and Malika have been running around the Chestnut St.- White Terrace-Adella area over the past 13 months. Despite efforts by the dogs’ owner, Benjamin Ellis, to contain the dogs, they are adept at escaping.

Det. Sgt. Mills detailed at least six calls to police and animal control regarding the dogs. In the initial complaint, a woman walking her dog back in July 2014 claimed the dogs were running loose, and one bit her dog. All was quiet until April 2015, when a string of complaints came in. Most were complaints about the dogs running free, but several were more involved.

Animal Control Officer Aimee Contois )))R) and Det. Sgt. Richard Mills L)

Animal Control Officer Aimee Contois (R) and Det. Sgt. Richard Mills (L) present the nuisance dog complaint to the Board of Selectmen (Jeff LaBonte photo)

On May 13, a neighborhood resident called animal control when one of the dogs became stuck in the resident’s pool.  On August 24, an Oxford St. N. resident went to Inspectional Services to file a complaint that the dogs had gotten into his yard and killed several chickens. The resident presented pictures along with remnants of the chickens as evidence.

In all, the owners were issued 8 citations for violating the leash law, 6 of which remain outstanding. Contois recommended that the dogs be restrained inside the house when the dog owners are not home, that they be supervised when outside, and that he reinforce the yard with fencing and concrete to prevent the dogs escaping. A violation of these terms within 2 years of the order would result in the dogs being removed from Auburn as nuisance dogs.

Given the chance to speak, Ellis said he agreed with everything Contois recommended, and stated he would comply with all the orders and pay the citations. He did question whether his dogs were responsible for all the reports, as he asserted there was a lookalike pair of huskies running around, as well.  But in the end he agreed the dogs were “out of control” as far as getting loose and he would do more to confine the dogs to his property.

“The dogs aren’t going to bite anyone.  They’ve been around my two little kids their whole life and they’ve never been aggressive.  They’re just a pain in the a**, excuse my language.”

Free Pet Clinic

Town Manager Julie Jacobson announced there will be a free pet clinic for seniors at the Auburn Senior Center on November 20 from 1-3pm. Second Chance Shelter received a grant to offer free checkups, rabies shots, distemper shots, nail trimming, heartworm testing and even a free toy (for the pet).  The clinic is open only to seniors 60 and over.