Editor's note: This article was updated on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016. Selectman John Duval voted against a proposed tax shift of 1.12 on Wednesday because he wanted to maintain a shift of 1.17. Duval's position would have further reduced residential tax rates, not increased the residential rate as previously written.
ADAMS — Although only by pennies, the residential tax rate in Adams has declined for the first time since 2010.
The Select Board voted 4-1 on Wednesday to set the residential tax rate at $21.37 for the fiscal 2017 — a decrease of 2 cents from the prior year. The commercial, industrial and personal property tax rate was set at $24.55 per $1,000 of assessed value, a decrease of $1.45 from the previous year.
Although the amount to be raised was already settled at Town Meeting, it is up to the Select Board every year to determine the tax rates for residential and commercial taxpayers, and the shift that determines the relative burdens that each sector will bear.
After discussion, the Selectmen opted for a tax shift of 1.12, a decrease from 1.17 the previous year. The higher the shift is set, the more relative burden is placed on commercial, industrial and personal property taxpayers.
Annual town meeting members approved a $15.55 million budget for fiscal 2017 earlier this year and, after state and local receipts, the town was left to raise $11.13 million in tax revenue.
Although the overall levy increased over fiscal 2016, the tax rates decreased because a recent revaluation of the town's property resulted in an additional $25 million in property value, according to assessor Donna MacDonald.
She estimated that about one-third of property owners saw a decrease in value, a third remained flat, and the last third will see an increase in valuation. The town's total property value is now $507.9 million.
The Select Board has voted to shift the tax burden toward the commercial and industrial sectors every year since 1991, but Town Administrator Tony Mazzucco noted the relatively small commercial base in Adams and advocated for always maintaining a single tax rate.
A single tax rate, or shift of 1.00, would have resulted in approximately a $71 increase to the average annual tax bill, according to Mazzucco.
"You can't make everyone happy, but I always believe that single rates are the best way to go," Mazzucco said.
As a compromise, the board voted for a shift of 1.12 in an effort to provide a decrease to commercial property owners while maintaining a nearly level residential property tax rate.
Selectman Joseph Nowak and John Duval noted that Adams has the highest residential tax rate in the county.
The average single family tax bill, however, is less than the annual bill in 20 other Berkshire County towns, according to Department of Revenue data, and ranks among the lowest statewide.
"I think this will be somewhat of a good sign that we're doing our best and that we've started on a path that may help us out in the future with our tax rates," Nowak said. "Living in town my whole life, I know people that are struggling."
Chairman Jeffrey Snoonian said the residential tax rate — which has climbed from $18.19 in 2010 to $21.39 in 2016 — is a "great burden."
"Considering our comparably low commercial tax rate in town, I'd like to see no increase in the residential rate," Snoonian said.
Duval said he understood the proposed compromise, but he cast the lone vote against the 1.12 shift. He advocated the shift remain the same from the previous year, which would have reduced the residential tax.
"People outside the community see the highest tax rate in the county, and we've got to do something about that," said Duval, who supports shifting more of the burden to businesses.
The average home is valued at $135,000 in Adams, meaning the average annual tax bill would be about $2,885.
Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376