LENOX -- As property values continue to decline and new growth remains at low ebb, the town's residential and commercial tax rates are rising for the current fiscal year, with taxpayers footing a 2 percent increase in their bills.
In a recent report to the Select Board, the Board of Assessors, represented by member Scott Pignatelli, recommended continuing the town's decade-long split tax rates, one for residences and a higher one for businesses.
At the annual tax-classification public hearing, Pignatelli noted that the total value of all town properties has dropped by 1.6 percent from last year to the current $1.1 billion.
The average value of a single-family home is now $376,105, representing 1,595 properties in town, down from $388,250 last year. That's a decline of 3.1 percent.
"It's just a sign of the times," he commented. "Values have come down with the staggering times of the economy and, hopefully, we'll see trends picking up. I think we're at the point where prices are maintaining, not going down anymore but maybe not increasing at the levels we'd like."
Pignatelli told the Selectmen that last year's new growth of $13.4 million compares to about $20 million in the year 2000, peaking at $48 million in 2008. New growth primarily reflects construction of new homes, additions or remodeling that adds value to a property, as well as increased commercial value from new businesses.
"Despite a bit of a decrease in our overall value, we still have to maintain town services," said Select Board Chairman David Roche. He noted that the new tax rates translate to a 2 percent increase, as approved by Town Meeting voters last May. "That 2 percent just buys us level services," he said.
Roche emphasized the importance of the town's share of lodging and meals taxes, about $2 million a year, as a supplement to property tax revenues of $14 million. The current town budget is $23.6 million, which includes state aid among its sources of income.
"Our goal is to make the town affordable for the people who are on fixed incomes and are over 65 or 70 years old, trying to stay here," Roche said. "We're not getting as many young people."
"That's what we need to do now," Selectman John McNinch said. "Let's find a way to bring in the families."
Adopting a uniform rate, cutting taxes for businesses but boosting them sharply for homeowners, would impose "a huge burden when people are having a tough time keeping their lights on," said Pignatelli. "The split rate has worked very well."
The selectmen voted unanimously to keep the split rate and to approve the proposed tax rates for the 2014 fiscal year that ends next June 30.
The state Department of Revenue is expected to sign off on the new rates promptly.
The Board of Assessors is chaired by James Sorrentino; members are Pignatelli and Wayne Lemanski.
By the numbers ...
Average single-family home value:
Average single-family home tax bill:
Residential tax rate (per $1,000 of assessed value):
Commercial, industrial tax rate (per $1,000 of assessed value)