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Northampton City Council to discuss tax rate, charter changes

The City Council has scheduled a public hearing tonight to discuss the city’s tax rate classification and to set the new tax rate.

Assessors have calculated the tax rate this fiscal year at $14.23 per $1,000 of assessed property value, an increase of 88 cents from the previous rate.

If the change is adopted, the owner of an average single-family home valued at $297,323 would see their property tax bill go from $3,969 to $4,203, an increase of $234.

“This is the first time the police station has come on,” Assessor Joan Sarafin said.

She said the city’s first-year bill for that $10 million debt exclusion override amounts to about $798,100 and makes up 26 cents, or 30 percent, of this year’s tax rate increase.

The regular meeting begins at 7 p.m. with public comment in the Puchalski Municipal Building’s Council Chambers, with the tax rate classification hearing scheduled for 8 p.m.

In other business tonight, a charter change overwhelmingly approved by voters last week means that Mayor David J. Narkewicz and future mayors will no longer preside over council meetings. That honor now belongs to City Council President William H. Dwight, who takes the gavel for the first time tonight.

Dwight said the city might look to its neighbors in Easthampton and Greenfield for some tips.

“This is relatively new territory for us, but most cities have council presided over by a council member,” Dwight said.

The council is expected to discuss several items related to the charter change, including election of a council vice president.

Other charter-related items to discuss include removing of the mayor from membership on the Economic Development, Housing and Land Use and Finance committees; bringing council rules and city ordinances into compliance with the new charter; and establishing an elected official compensation advisory board.

New tax rate

The proposed property tax rate increase is more than twice the hikes in the last two years combined, which were 39 cents and 32 cents, respectively, per $1,000 of property value. The increase is not as high as in fiscal 2010, when the rate jumped $1.16 primarily due to a $2 million override and a property revaluation.

Assessors are recommending that councilors retain a single tax rate for commercial and residential properties.

Sarafin said taxpayers will benefit more from an increase in the commercial tax base than they would from a split tax rate. She notes that commercial taxpayers now make up 20.2 percent of the city’s tax base, the highest amount since fiscal 2005, and a nearly half-percent increase over last year.

“We’ve gained a bit in the commercial,” Sarafin said. “That trend is really good.”

She expects the figure will continue to rise next year as numerous commercial projects in the works are completed. The commercial activity is good for residential taxpayers because the amount of taxes they pay goes down as the amount of commercial taxes go up, Sarafin said.

The city has traditionally maintained a single tax rate rather than shift a greater share of the tax burden from residential to commercial properties.

After the council sets the rate, it must be approved by the state Department of Revenue. Property owners will see the tax bill increases when third-quarter bills are mailed in January.


Northampton City Council Agenda

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

These other items are on the agenda when the City Council meets tonight at 7 p.m. in the Council Chambers of the Puchalski Municipal Building: ∎ An order authorizing the city to accept a historic preservation restriction for a majority of the Clarke School property off Round Hill Road. The restrictions will apply in perpetuity to the exterior of the …

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