Last week, the town announced that it will raise the property tax levy 4% in FY2013, which amounts to a $7 million addition to the town budget. The new levy will be $170 million.
So what does this mean and how will the increase affect us? I can answer that, thanks to the generous time and patience afforded me by Town of Brookline Chief Assessor, Gary McCabe. Everything you'll read in this article is provided with Gary's help. Here is how it works:
The property tax levy for FY2012 was $163 million. According to the FY2013 Classification Hearing Presentation McCabe delivered to the Selectmen, residential & commercial property values went up by a total of 2%, which basically amounts to an additional 2% of tax revenue from property taxes to the town. Last week, the Brookline Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to increase the town's residential and commercial rates by 2% to $11.65 and $18.97 per $1,000 respectively. That amounts to the other 2%, giving the town 4% or an increase of $7 million over the last year.
About 90.5% of property values in Brookline are residential, with the remaining 9.5% commercial. There is a shift that takes place because in FY2013 commercial property will be taxed at 173.0% of the assessed value compared to 100% for residential properties. This shift happens just about every year with 175% the maximum allowed by state law for Brookline. Last year the shift was 173.3%. This means that while residential property amounts to 90.5% of the overall taxable property, residential taxes make up about 84% of the actual property tax levy and commercial property the other 16% due to the shift.
How this affects you personally depends on many factors. If you own a commercial or residential property, your property could be assessed at the same or greater value, or even less value than last year. It all depends on how your individual property has faired. The 2% figure represents the increase for the combined $15.5 billion in local property values.
Do we collect enough money in property taxes to keep our government running? Government could probably use more money to keep up, but under state law, we are paying just about the maximum the town can collect. Since Prop 2 ½ was voted in by the state in the 1970's, the maximum tax increase couldn't exceed 2.5%. The only exceptions to this rule are if the town decides to support either Debt Exclusion or an Override referendum. In order for this to happen, Town Meeting would have to vote for the referendum, followed by a town wide vote. Usually Debt Exclusion is for a capital expense. Brookline currently has an exclusion to fund renovations to BHS and for building the new Lincoln School. Currently, only Springfield and Everett increases taxes by the full allowable 2.5%.
Property taxes currently make up about 69% of the total taxes collected. The rest of the money comes from fees, usage charges, parking meter collections and stuff like that. About half of the town government spending is directed to Brookline's public school system.
Many of the challenges for local government can be attributed to the rising cost of past and present employee entitlements and unprecedented rising school enrollment. The enrollment issue can mostly can be attributed to Brookline's success compared to a lot of other communities in the state. Thanks to our community's group sensibility, our town's school system is widely regarded as one of the best in the United States, especially for a community our size.
There are pluses to having a great school system besides the obvious benefits our young people enjoy. For one thing, a great school system makes people want to live here, which kept property values up at a time when home values in other areas plummeted. Lower property values mean fewer taxes, and mean a less effective government, which lead to even lower property values leading to even less effective government. It can be a vicious cycle.
So, in short, Brookline is in pretty good shape considering how the rest of the country has faired the last five years. As Chief Assessor McCabe puts it, "Brookline has the 3 most important things a community needs to be a great place to live; market value, location, and amenities. Linda Pelke wrote a great demographic report that shows that about half the commercial property is medical, which provides jobs to close to half the residents. Brookline is also located close to major academic institutions. The proximity to medical and higher education keeps rents high and property values up. We also have great commercial areas that make Brookline a great location".
One of the things I like about this town is there seems to be a concerted effort to do the right thing. It's impossible to have a community where people don't fall through the gaps. There are many private non-profit initiates that make sure every student gets the education they deserve, seniors are not left in the cold, and people don't go hungry. If you read this publication, you'll learn about a lot of them, too many to name in this article. The town government has also does its share, as McCabe explains, "This town does a great job of developing affordable housing. The residents have agreed to share the load of discounted property for the greater good. There are also great programs like Senior Work-off that allows residents 60 and over to work off up to $1,000 of their property tax bill."
Still with costs rising on virtually everything, keeping the trains running on time is no easy feat. Gary McCabe points out, "The challenges for local government are largely financial. Our Town Administrator, Mel Kleckner, understands what it takes to run our government. It's a challenging assignment".
So our tax rate went up a little bit, but our local government gives our community a pretty big bang for the buck and you could do worse than owning property in Brookline.
By R. Harvey Bravman,. Publisher