Amherst tax rate tops $20; property assessments stable
Most property assessments will not change this year, but the tax rate per $1,000 valuation will rise above $20, making it among the highest in the state, said Principal Assessor David Burgess.
In the fiscal year that ended June 30, assessments were about 4.5 percent lower than the year before after several decades of increases, due to a depressed real estate market in calendar year 2010, he said. Last year, property sale prices were stable, resulting in no change in assessments in the current fiscal year, he said.
The average assessed value for a residence will remain $319,300. But the tax rate per $1,000 will increase from $19.74 last year to an estimated $20.39, Burgess said. This will result in an increase in the average annual residential tax bill of about $200, from $6,302 to $6,504.
An annual tax bill is calculated by dividing the assessment by $1,000 and multiplying by the tax rate.
The increase in the tax rate reflects the annual increase in the amount raised in taxation that’s allowed under state law. In the years since 2009, Amherst’s tax rate per $1,000 has been $15.82, $16.95 and $18.20 and was $19.74 last year. The average residential tax bill in 2009 was $5,611 and has gone up steadily.
More than 95 percent of residential and commercial properties will have no increase in assessed value this year, Burgess said. The only changes will be due to improvements in the property or an error in the assessment process, he said.
The new Boltwood Place development in downtown Amherst was assessed at $1.43 million, Burgess said. It is on the same parcel as Judie’s restaurant, and the total assessed value of the property is $2.36 million, he said.
Unlike last year, there will be no informal appeal procedure or notification of assessments, he said. Property owners will get their assessments along with their third- and fourth-quarter tax bills at the end of December. The tax bills of the first two quarters were calculated based on last year’s tax rate, and so the bills that are due on Feb. 1 and May 1 of next year will be higher because they will reflect the new rate.
Amherst’s average residential assessment last year was second in the Pioneer Valley only to Longmeadow, where it was $352,613, with a tax rate of $19.68 and an average tax bill of $6,939. But Amherst assessments are lower than in many communities in the Boston area. The state’s average residential annual tax bill last year was $4,711, and the average assessment was $387,131.
But Amherst’s tax rate last year was far above the state average of $13.95. Last year’s tax rates in Pelham ($19.64) and Shutesbury ($19.56) are also likely to top $20 this year, Burgess said. Only 12 of the 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts had tax rates above $19 last year, and only one, Sharon, topped $20. Hadley’s tax rate was $10.22 last year and Northampton’s was $13.35.
Amherst’s total assessed value is now closing in on $2 billion, at $1,993,624,000, Burgess said.
Burgess attributed Amherst’s high tax rate to residents’ demand for high-quality municipal services and the high quality of the public schools. Amherst’s per-pupil costs were $17,115 in the elementary schools and $18,329 in the secondary schools in 2010-11, compared to a state average of $13,369.
The Select Board will hold its annual hearing on whether residential and commercial properties should have the same tax rate Dec. 3 at 6 p.m. in Town Hall. Amherst has always had the same tax rate for all types of properties, and Burgess said he sees no reason for a change.