The Selectmen express frustration with the town's declining value — which is forcing tax rates up.
ADAMS, Mass. — Property assessments have decreased by some $28 million, leaving the Selectmen befuddled on how to keep the tax rate down so as to not drive away prospective businesses.
At a tax classification hearing on Wednesday, Assessor Donna MacDonald brought forth the latest assessments for the Selectmen to choose possible rates.
They chose a split rate between commercial and residential — $18.25 per $1,000 of assessed value for residential and $21.67 for commercial in 2013. The increases are .99 cents per $1,000 for residential and $1.20 for commercial properties.
While those rate increases won't affect the total tax bill for most property owners, the Selectmen were frustrated that the town has both low property values and a high tax rate while bills are in line with the rest of the county.
"I don't understand how these other communities can keep their tax rates lower and assessments higher," Chairman Arthur "Skip" Harrington said.
Selectman Scott Nichols peppered MacDonald about the assessment process saying he couldn't understand how the town could lose $28 million in value in just a single year. MacDonald explained that the majority of the assessment is based on home sales and sales have been lower than assessed values.
On average, MacDonald said residential properties have dropped 5 percent in value and commercial properties lost about 2 percent. Many other Berkshire towns are seeing decreasing values as well, she added.
"Have you driven around town? Not just to drive home but around town? We have over 3,000 properties and there is an awful lot of houses falling into disrepair," MacDonald told the Selectmen.
Not every property lost value and some gained value in the 2011 numbers, she said, but the town has been trending downward in value for years. The town has a total of $465.5 million in property value and needs to pay for a $8.7 million tax levy.
Nichols called the process a "snowball effect" because prospective businesses and property owners look mostly at the tax rate instead of the average tax bill. Harrington proposed looking at options such as contracting out an independent evaluation to provide ideas to lower the rate.
Selectman John Duval said it is "frustrating" to see the values decrease so dramatically.
"We cannot continue with this type of tax rate. Things have to change," Duval said.
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