STOCKBRIDGE — Most property owners fearing a huge spike in their tax bills caused by skyrocketing home values can rest easy, town officials emphasized at a well-attended Select Board hybrid public hearing on Thursday.
The new estimated tax rate for the current fiscal year will drop sharply to $8.14 per $1,000 of assessed property value, Principal Assessor Michael Blay said. That’s a drop of nearly 14 percent from last year’s tax rate of $9.38.
After extensive pro and con discussion, the Select Board failed to adopt the controversial tax discount plan known as the residential tax exemption (RTE) that would benefit full-time residents at the expense of second homeowners.
Before the vote, board Chairman Patrick White urged approval of the RTE to protect “elderly residents who face unprecedented burdens” because of inflation, and to attract and retain younger year-round homeowners, especially first-time buyers.
But Selectman Ernest “Chuck” Cardillo disagreed, citing high home prices in town, not taxes, as the real deterrents to young families, primarily because of 2-acre and 4-acre residential zoning.
“Who can afford 4-acre zoning?” he asked. “Rich people. A family can’t afford a 4-acre lot and put a house on it.” Cardillo suggested a focus on creating affordable housing. Many second-homeowners are not rich and own small cottages, he added.
The board voted 3-0 Thursday night to continue the town’s single tax rate for residential, commercial and industrial properties and took no action to approve the residential tax exemption, as White was the only member to favor it, with Cardillo and board member Jamie Minacci opposed.
The bottom line: Owners of at least 1,200 properties — a clear majority of the total — can expect to receive the same or lower tax bills as last year’s, Blay explained, thanks to the dramatic decline in the tax rate.
That decline was enabled in part by the anticipated increase in local town revenues from $1.3 million to about $2.5 million, according to Town Administrator Michael Canales. Examples of those receipts include motor vehicle excise taxes and lodging taxes from inns as well as bed and breakfast inns.
However, owners of some higher-end properties, especially around Stockbridge Bowl, would see an increase, Blay acknowledged.
Overall property valuations increased by about 15 percent on average this year, he said. Total property taxes collected by the town remain the same, since they are based on the municipal budget approved by voters at last May’s annual town meeting.
Homeowners whose valuations rose by more than 15 percent will get a higher tax bill, according to White. Others will see the same or a lower bill.
The average tax bill in the town will go down by $14, Canales stated.
Property owners checking their higher, publicly posted home valuation assessments may have expected a similar impact on their property tax bills, Blay commented. “Definitely not,” he said. “The impact is not going to be devastating, as people think it would be.”
Blay explained that a tax discount would apply only to full-time owners of houses, condos and land parcels who are principal residents of the town at least 183 days a year. The exemption would not apply to second home pwners or a residence not occupied by its owner such as a rental property.
The current average value of all residential properties is $600,917, Blay noted, based on a total of 1,695 parcels.
Adopting a 20 percent discount would exempt $120,000 of a residential property’s value from the real estate tax, affecting 656 eligible parcels. The result would be a tax rate, applying to all properties, estimated at $8.83.
Pointing out that no cities or towns in Western Massachusetts have adopted a residential exemption, Blay said that “the adoption of this exemption is basically a shift in the tax burden to second homeowners and to owners of rental properties.”
An even more dramatic shift to a 35 percent discount — the maximum allowed by the state law adopted in 1979 — would yield a $210,000 deduction in the amount of an eligible parcel’s taxable value. Under that scenario, the town’s tax rate would be $9.42, a slight increase over the 2022 fiscal year’s rate.
During public comment, resident Michael Roisman advocated adoption of the tax discount option, arguing that more prosperous second-home owners could afford to pay more.
Steve Rose asserted that the tax discount plan would attract more young families to the town.
But resident Edward Lane voiced opposition because it would place an additional burden on seasonal residents who are not eligible to vote in the town.
Joseph Newberg stressed that the tax exemption would not raise additional revenue for the town but would increase taxes for all seasonal residents, whether or not they are wealthy, while lowering the bills for full-time homeowners of any and all income levels.
“This is a terrible idea for Stockbridge, it divides us, it doesn’t help us,” he said. “It demonizes a lot of second-home owners. … A lot of misinformation has been dished out about it.”
Resident Jim Balfanz, a Finance Committee member, said the committee recently discussed the residential tax exemption idea and was solidly opposed.
And Patty Caya told the Select Board that the names of 294 residents are now attached digitally to an informal petition opposing the tax exemption proposal. A competing petition organized by Roisman in favor of discussing the plan has 136 signatures.