By SCOTT JACKSON
The average owner of a single-family home in Quincy will see their property taxes increase by $271 next year, with the average tax bill rising to more than $6,100.
Mark Cavanagh, the city’s director of municipal finance, on Dec. 2 told the City Council that the average single-family residential tax bill will increase from $5,855 in 2019 to $6,126.23 in 2020, a hike of $271.23. The average tax bill had increased by $119 from 2018 to 2019.
The residential tax rate will decrease for the seventh straight year, going from $12.55 per $1,000 of assessed value in 2019 to $12.43 in the new year. While the tax rate is decreasing, home values continue to rise. Colleen Healy, the chairwoman of Quincy’s Board of Assessors, said the average value of a single-family home increased from $466,600 in 2019 to $492,900 in 2020.
Residential property values have risen each year since 2014, when the average single-family home was assessed at $315,800.
The tax rate for commercial, industrial and personal property will also drop next year. That rate will decrease from $25.18 to $24.84. The difference between residential and commercial tax rates is the highest allowed under state law.
The tax levy, the total amount of property taxes the city will collect, will rise by $12.57 million next year to $241.96 million, an increase of 5.48 percent, Cavanagh said. Homeowners will pay 75.09 percent of the levy, according to Healy.
Property taxes pay the lion’s share of Quincy’s general fund budget; other sources of income are local aid from the state and local receipts, a category that includes various revenue streams such as motor vehicle excise tax, the local option meals tax and fees from building permits. The city’s general fund budget for fiscal year 2020, which began July 1, is $329.78 million, an increase of $19 million over the fiscal year 2019 budget of $310.71 million.
City councillors approved a series of measures Mayor Thomas Koch introduced at the Dec. 2 meeting that determine the tax rate for next year.
Councillors voted 8-0 – with Ward 6 Councillor William Harris not in attendance – to appropriate $2.9 million of the city’s $8 million in state-certified free cash toward the general fund to reduce tax rates. The appropriation saved the average single-family homeowner $36, according to Cavanagh.
Councillors also voted 6-2 in favor of appropriating another $2.59 million in free cash to three reserve accounts. That includes $1 million to the city’s stabilization account, bringing the total amount in that reserve to $12 million, $1 million to the other post-employment benefits (OPEB) trust, bringing that account to $3 million, and $517,000 to the city’s inclement weather fund, which now includes $3.2 million. The allocations are in line with the city’s financial policies.
Cavanagh said the city has $2.5 million remaining in free cash following those votes on Dec. 2. That money can be spent by Koch only with the council’s approval.
Councillor Anne Mahoney and Ward 4 Councillor Brian Palmucci both opposed the $2.59 million appropriation to the three reserve accounts. Mahoney said the city should use the outstanding $2.5 million in free cash to further reduce tax rates.
“That’s due back to the taxpayers,” she said. “I think we should be budgeting in our budget for things we want to spend and not just have free reign to spend money any place we want.”
Councillors also voted 8-0 to appropriate $1.8 million in funds set aside but not spent in previous fiscal years towards the 2020 tax levy.
Councillors then voted 8-0 in favor of a split tax rate that shifts the tax burden from residential to commercial property owners. The difference between the two rates is the highest allowed under state law.
The tax rate for both residential and commercial properties would have been $14.20 next year without the split, resulting in an additional $870 increase for the average homeowner, according to Healy. The city has used a split tax rate since 1984.
In a 7-1 vote, with Mahoney opposed, councillors then adopted a residential factor of 87.5597 for next year.
Several councillors who spoke during the meeting noted the setting of the budget in June and approval of other appropriations is what determines the new tax rates.
“This is the lowest tax increase we can put forth to the residential taxpayer based on the budget this body voted for and passed in the spring,” Palmucci said.
“Whether it was the budget or bonding, your time to say yes or no is at that time,” Councillor Noel DiBona said. “That’s your time to speak up, when the appropriations are coming down the pike.”
Palmucci also noted there are various programs residents can qualify for to reduce their property tax burden. Those include a tax deferral program that residents over the age of 65 can qualify for, provided they have lived in their home for five years and their household income is less than $58,000. There are also tax exemptions for seniors, veterans and their surviving spouses, legally blind persons, and surviving spouses of firefighters and police officers killed in the line of duty.
Residents had a chance to comment on property taxes during a public hearing earlier that evening. Patrick Alexis of Stedman Street said property taxes have become a burden for his family.
“We chose Quincy because we felt that Quincy was a nice working-class city, which I believe it is, but each year my property taxes…feels like it’s this big burden,” he said.
“I’m a city employee myself, so I believe in paying taxes…it’s just if my property taxes are based off valuation, my income is not keeping up. Even if my home is worth $1 million tomorrow, my income is not keeping up. It’s not money I can put into my pocket.”