ADAMS, Mass. — The Selectmen set a residential tax rate of $22.21 per $1,000 evaluation that is 3.9 percent higher than last year's residential rate.
During the town's tax classification hearing Wednesday, the board approved a rate that would increase the residential rate by 84 cents per $1,000 valuation and set a new commercial rate of $25.52 per $1,000 valuation.
"This as a selectman is a very difficult thing for me, having lived here my entire life, raising taxes is a tough decision," Selectman Joseph Nowak said. "I don't know how to change it because if this community wants to have the standard of living stay the way it is … we have to raise taxes."
The selectmen kept the same residential commercial shift of 112 percent as that of last year, that had maintained a flat residential tax rate of $21.37 and a lowered commercial rate of $24.55 last fiscal year.
Town Administrator Tony Mazzucco said the bulk of the increase is not on the town's side of the budget, but for education. He said Adams-Cheshire Regional School District accounts for roughly 30 cents of the increase while McCann Technical School accounts for 45 cents.
Eighty-nine percent of the residential increase is going to education.
Mazzucco said the town originally projected that the rate would be closer to 70 cents but with changes in final growth numbers, there was a 10 cent difference.
The bulk of the decrease was for properties that the town sold at its tax-acquired auction. Legally, they have to be taken off the tax rolls for a year.
"We lost some value in the tax base this year," he said. "That was over $600,000 worth of property that came off … it is just a quirky way state law works."
He said the town actually gained nearly $143,000 in new growth, double what it typically pulls in.
The Selectmen toyed with approving a 115 percent shift and even went as far as to make a motion to approve a shift that would bring the residential rate 14 cents lower but hammer businesses with a commercial rate increase of $1.65 per $1,000.
Selectman Richard Blanchard, who was the only selectman to vote in favor of the 115 shift, said the shift was higher in 2016 but the town decided to give businesses a break. He added Adams still has one of the lower rates in the county.
William Kolis, owner of the now-closed Fire House Café on Park Street, fired back and said it would be counterintuitive to heighten the stress already on business in town.
"To expect to invite commercial growth in this town and at the same time hold commercial people to a higher level is going to be devastating," he said. "Even with the current businesses … they are as close to the edge as they can be."
The selectmen took a second vote and unanimously agreed to keep the rate flush at 112 percent.
The average home in Adams is valued at $140,000: this means the average tax bill will be around $3,100.
Assessor Donna MacDonald said although it may not be the year to do it, the town seems to be moving toward a single rate. Joining the rates would mean a flat rate of $22.78.
Resident and Finance Committee member Jeff Lefebvre urged the Selectmen to not adopt a single rate when the community is so close to hitting the $25 per $1,000 levy ceiling at which the town can no longer raise taxes.
"A lot of people are having a hard time and a lot of people don't feel like they are getting their money's worth," he said. "You see slum and blight move in because people can't turn around and afford to keep up their homes … and once we hit $25 we are done."
The $25 levy ceiling loomed over the entire hearing and Chairman John Duval said on the current trajectory, the town will hit that number in a few budget cycles. Duval said changes need to be made in the town and the community if they want to avoid this.
"We have to show much more urgency in avoiding the $25 limit. We can't go there," he said. "We have to make decisions now and we have to operate differently ... I still believe we can change this."
Overall, he said the town needs to come together and be positive.
"We are a community … we need growth in this community and we need to be more positive in this community," he said. "We need to sell this community and we have to work together."
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