The Board of Selectmen was not entirely swayed by the half dozen Chamber of Commerce members calling for a steep reduction – or even elimination – of the town’s Residential-Commercial tax split. Instead, they reduced the CPI shift from 1.17 to 1.16 for FY 2020.
While the decrease is welcome, it fell short of what some business community members had hoped. Some spoke in support of dropping the shift to 1.14, a motion supported by Selectman Lionel Berthiaume. Other selectmen like Daniel Carpenter were not feeling so generous.
“I am not going to be supporting the drop this year” said Carpenter. “We reduced it last year, it’s time to take a year off”.
There was only one non-business-owning resident present at the meeting. Matthew Taylor, who said his family moved to Burnap St. in Auburn just about 18 months ago, spoke briefly in support of a low movement back to a single tax rate, noting “Too much too quickly would be a shock to residents.”
Selectboard members Tristan Laliberte, Doreen Goodrich, and Ken Holstrom indicated that they would support a move to the 1.16 shift. Ultimately, they vote carried and the new CIP will be 1.16.
The move continues a long, often arduous journey back to a single tax rate in Auburn, one of only two Central Mass communities to still maintain a dual tax rate for business and residential properties, Worcester being the other. Auburn moved to a dual tax rate in 1988; at the time, residential and commercial property tax rates were at $17. The dual tax rate moved that ratio to $15.12 residential and $21.82 commercial.
Beginning in 2007, Auburn began intentionally moving the rate toward a single rate. Some Chamber members expressed disappointment that the “10 year plan” to eliminate the dual rate had not been met, though no current BOS member seemed to recall there being a 10-year plan.
“I think that is wishful thinking” stated Goodrich during the comment portion of the meeting.
Goodrich went on to point out that, while she was not supporting a big reduction in the CIP shift this time around, businesses and residents all benefit from the Town’s economic policy, and the fact that Auburn has not taxed to the 2.5% levy limit in at least 10 years, a move that benefits every tax payer.
The CIP shift determines what percentage of the total fiscal year tax levy each category of property owners pays. For FY 2019, that translated a residential tax rate of $18.44 per $1,000 in valuation, and a commercial/industrial rate of $23.23. The CIP shift does not affect the amount of tax levied, it only affects who pays what share, according to Auburn Chief Assessor, Cynthia Cosgrove.
“The actual tax levy and the tax rate is set by Town Meeting by passing the annual budget” emphasized Cosgrove.
The forecast tax rates with the new 1.16 shift would translate to about $17.98 for residential and $22.38 for commercial properties. Cosgrove also noted that this was a revaluation year for all Auburn properties, so while actual tax rates per $1,000 in valuation may drop, the property valuations may also go up leading to flat or even higher tax bills.