Ward 2 Real Estate Tax – Newsletter Update

Folks, the property tax levy for 2019 is being brought before the Board of Aldermen tomorrow, and I just got a sneak preview. It doesn’t look like good news for ward 2 residents. There is a Public Hearing on the matter scheduled for TOMORROW, 11/29/2018, at 5:30 PM, at City Hall.

For renters, this may drive up rents as landlords increase rents to protect their profit margins. For homeowners, the city already has a high residential (owner occupancy) exemption at 35% – meaning that the exemption is placed at 35% of the “AVERAGE ASSESSED VALUE” of homes across all of Somerville. Unfortunately, that means that houses that see big increases in valuation see corresponding decreases in benefit from the exemption. That is exactly what is happening here in Ward 2.

Ward 2 is projected to be among the hardest hit in the city by property valuation increases. Across the board, triple deckers in Ward 2 are going to see an increase greater than 20% in property value according to my understanding of the Assessor’s proposal.

The impact on taxes for owner-occupants, including the elderly, will be even higher than 20% though. If the average assessed value is 800k and the exemption is about 300k, the remainder of 500k is taxed. When the value goes up to 1M, 700k is taxed; a 25% increase in value results in a 40% increase in effective taxes.

This is what longtime Ward 2 residents are facing. It’s a potential catastrophe, and I fear that it will drive condo conversion and further displacement in Ward 2.

Who benefits from a high exemption? Obviously, people in lower value single family homes – and people whose valuations are not increasing. (Oddly enough, the average assessed valuation of homes in Ten Hills is going DOWN this year according to the Assessor. Imagine that – taxes in Somerville are decreasing somewhere… just not here.)

I appreciate the Assessor taking the time to preview the data prior to the meeting tomorrow, but I was left uncertain on how I can proceed from here. I can tell you that the presentation will be at a public meeting, and that there will be a public hearing afterwards where all members of the public are invited to come and comment. Remember, that’s TOMORROW, 11/29/2018, at 5:30 PM, at City Hall. After that hearing, I’ll be asking a lot of questions before committing to a vote.

Now: what can we do about these increases?

As I understand it, I can’t force the Assessor to go out and raise valuations in Ten Hills to balance the burden. I also understand that we are already at the maximum amount that we can tax commercial property according to state law (a “1.75 factor” that will be referenced tomorrow night).

What I can do is tell you that if your home is hit by a large valuation increase this year without having been visited in person by the tax assessor, WE CAN FIGHT THAT. Please contact me.

The Chief Assessor has committed to come adjust the value of your home if you challenge the assessed value – if there have been no major home improvements since the last assessor visit, there’s no reason for it to take the outrageous 20%+ increase in valuation that the city is bringing forward this year. It’s very possible that we can get your property valuation (and taxes) adjusted back down. Please let your elderly neighbors know about this as well – they may not be getting my email newsletter. There are also some programs for tax deferment for elderly and low-income people, and we can explore getting people into those programs too. I’ll try anything to keep you and your neighbors from being displaced from your home by rising taxes.

These increases are coming automatically by my understanding, but we can fight them one at a time. And if that’s the only avenue we have, we’ll take it. Wherever the fight is, I stand ready to help you.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I don’t have all the answers yet, but I’m committed to transparency and I wanted you to know as soon as I heard about it. This kind of information isn’t something I want you finding out about in the newspaper or in your tax bill. I’ll provide more updates as soon as I have them.

Thanks for your trust,

-JT Scott

2 thoughts on “Ward 2 Real Estate Tax – Newsletter Update

  1. Alex Wright says:

    Hi JT – thanks for making this info public. Did you get any explanation for why the city of sommerville needs to raise revenue? Seems to me that property values (and associated tax revenues) have been increasing pretty dramatically over the last 10+ years. I would’ve thought the city budget would be in pretty good shape as a result. Where is all the money going?


    • jtscott says:

      Hi Alex, thanks for the question. The city has taken on an enormous debt load over the past 5 years to pursue infrastructure improvements in Union Square, major overhauls of the city sewer and stormwater systems, and the construction of the new High School. Those debts were justified by projections of tax revenue increases to the “Prop 2.5” cap over the next 20 years – unfortunately, our mayor and prior Boards of Aldermen committed the city to this course long ago – though Alderman-at-Large Bill White has been consistent at warning of the dangers of overextending the city’s projected finances and the potential for economic downturn to create disastrous consequences on the city budget.

      We have seen in recent years projected revenues from building permits slide out due to construction schedules changing, and because we are so close to the edge this has reduced our ability to negotiate from a position of strength when it comes to development benefits. At the same time, sloppy budgeting results in “slush funds” hidden in departmental operation lines and results in expenditures that the BOA does not approve that would otherwise be special appropriations. In this year’s budget I cut over $1M in these “slush funds” (without impacting city services or jobs at all) and will continue to watch our spending closely to ensure it’s responsible and properly monitored.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.