STOCKBRIDGE — A growing number of Stockbridge residents fear a dramatic, double-digit rise in their property taxes. That’s led 136 full-time homeowners to petition the Select Board to reopen a financial discussion — and take a vote on a tax discount plan.
Those fears rose after the posting of state-approved property values, following the townwide reassessment mandated by the state. Many residents saw significant upward revaluations for their homes. Others spotted a relatively low increase, or even a slight decrease.
The signed petition was delivered by resident Michael Roisman to board members last week. He urged concerned property owners to attend the annual tax classification hearing when it’s scheduled.
The decision is up to the Select Board, which has explored the idea of a residential tax exemption that would ease the burden for full-timers, but increase bills for most seasonal homeowners, who make up more than 50 percent of the town’s property holders.
According to Principal Assessor Michael Blay, since the total amount of property taxes to be raised is based on town spending approved by voters, the tax rate itself will be lowered to stabilize semi-annual bills to homeowners.
Select Board Chairman Patrick White pointed out that the measure is part of the annual tax classification hearing. “We vote on it every year, it is required,” he said Wednesday. “There are a lot of challenges for locals to meet their tax obligations. At the public hearing, we look at the evidence, we talk and listen to the comments and then decide. I’m not going to prejudge my position on that conversation.”
Town Administrator Michael Canales said the town can only raise enough property taxes to cover the municipal budget approved at annual town meeting. Thus, the tax rate — now $9.38 per $1,000 of assessed valuation in Stockbridge — will be lowered as much as necessary to meet that target, since many home values have increased.
The date of the tax classification public meeting remains to be scheduled, Blay said. “It can’t be scheduled until we have final certification on our values and until our Fiscal Year 2023 New Growth is certified, which has yet to be submitted and reviewed.”
Since the tax rate is based on spending, it’s likely to go down, but by how much remains to be seen. Homeowners will see their bills increase, but nowhere near as much as the gain in their property values.
Selectman Ernest “Chuck” Cardillo said Wednesday that some homeowners will see an increase in their tax bills. Others will see minimal change, and some may even see a decrease. “The petition that was submitted was to tell us what we have to do by law anyway,” he said. “It will be an interesting hearing, that’s where the public will speak. We’ll listen and then make the decision.”
“There’s a lot of misinformation about this out there,” he said. “There’s a very good reason why this hasn’t taken off in more towns. I’ve done my homework on this.”
Selectwoman Jamie Minacci also cited misinformation. “It’s very dismaying, but that’s the way of the world right now,” she said. “It saddens me. Out of 1,600 voters, it was 136 people, it’s a smidgen, really.”
She noted that the town’s Finance Committee has recommended against the residential tax exemption.
“People are feeling the pinch of inflation,” she said. “Then tax bills come in December, and I get it that they’re probably nervous. But we do not control inflation, we’re not magicians, we’re doing our best. We have to be as fair as possible to all Stockbridge residents, we can’t just say the second homeowners have more money, that’s a terrible thing to make that judgment.”
The bottom line, town officials say: Tax bills will increase for some homeowners, but by less than their increased property valuations would indicate.
Longtime resident John Hart supports a one-year trial of a residential tax exemption.
“Folks with considerably more resources than ‘locals’ came to town and got into real estate bidding wars,” he said. “If they really wanted the house and it was for sale for $350,000, they’d offer $400,000 cash. Deal done — town assessments go up. These are not the voters and residents of Stockbridge; these are second-home owners driving up all our property taxes.”
Also in favor of considering the property tax discount for full-timers is Carole Owens, managing editor of the bi-weekly newsletter Stockbridge Updates.
“A sober, measured, and polite discussion of options must continue, enhanced by an understanding of the desired outcomes,” she wrote. “Not just because it is required by law, but because right from the start it was the right thing to do.”