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Anthony Patillo: ‘General overrides are forever’

In 1988, we voted for our first general override, for $600,000. Since then, five other override referendums have faced voters — another general override in 2009 for $2 million and four debt-exclusion Proposition 2½ overrides for the JFK Middle School, Northampton High School and the fire and police station construction projects.

If the June 25 vote approves an override for $2.5 million, the tax rate per thousand dollars of valuation will rise from $14.26 to $15.53 — an increase of 8.9 percent over this year’s tax bill.

This general override will also be added together with the two other general overrides previously passed and add $5,100,000 to our base levy forever.

Proponents of the Proposition 2½ override have stated that the average single-family home is valued at $297,323 and that the override would cost that property owner $235.

The devil is in the details. Let’s look at how your tax bill is generated.

Every year the city starts with what is called a base levy. This levy is multiplied by 2½ percent, the maximum the state allows cities to increase property tax by each year. The base and 2½ percent of it are added together to come up with a levy limit. The city then adds to that figure what new growth it expects in that year. The two are combined. The continuing costs of already approved debt-exclusion overrides are then added (JFK, high school, fire station, police station). This number is divided by the total value of all taxable property to come up with your tax rate.

This year that figure was $14.26 per thousand dollars of assessed value. A $297,323 house would have received a bill of $4,239.

If latest override passes, the levy limit from 2013 is then multiplied by 2½ percent. Those two figures are then added with the $2.5 million override along with new growth. The debt-exclusion payments for 2014 of $1,459,232 are then added and then divided by total value to yield a tax rate of $15.53 rate per thousand, an increase of 8.9 percent over last year’s rate. A $297.323 house would receive a tax bill of $4.617, a $378 increase over previous year.

As the debt exclusions are paid down, their payments per year will decrease. However, JFK’s last payment doesn’t come until 2016; the fire station’s is in 2019, the high school’s in 2020 and the police station’s in 2032.

We are also at the end of a three-year period for valuation of properties for the purpose of taxation. Consequently, assessors will be re-evaluating property values.

If the override passes, every year from 2014 on, the general override approvals stay in our base levy ($600,000 from 1988, $2 million from 2009 and if approved on June 25, $2.5 million) that figure — $5,100,000 — will keep pushing taxes upward.

It is a tax gift you will keep on giving not for one year but for the foreseeable future.

The city has yet to announce what the average property owner will have to pay for the Storm Water Management fee. That is the fee that must implemented to pay for an estimated $80 million project over the next decade. This will be a new fee over and above your water and sewer tax cost.

The trend of the state reducing aid and increasing taxes is not new and will continue. Our food prices continue to rise as well as other commodities. When families and businesses face deficits or reduced income, we don’t go out to eat as often, we drive less, we eat more chicken and reduce staff.

When your tax bill arrives it must be paid. If not, the city could place a lien on your property and a process is put in place that is costly and could result in your property being taken.

Families that are approaching retirement, those on fixed incomes and those in the middle class will find it hard to budget for a 9 percent increase in their property taxes when their incomes are flat or decreased. Businesses that rent and apartment dwellers will see their rents increase as landlords pass along the tax increase.

One building on Main Street valued at $792,700 will see its tax bill rise from $11,303 to $12,286 — an increase of almost $1,000. Rents that are already high on Main Street will go higher. This will affect the vitality of our downtown, create empty storefronts and higher rates of turnover.

The ripple effect will be wide-reaching.

If you feel comfortable knowing these financial increases and others yet to come, then vote yes on the override. If you are not comfortable putting in place this permanent increase, use the sanctity and privacy of the voting booth to stop this by voting no.

Please get out and vote. This is an important issue that will affect many; don’t wait until it is too late.

General overrides are forever.

Anthony Patillo, Northampton’s former building commissioner, lives in Northampton.

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