LETTER: Selectmen Have a 6-Point Plan To Address Tax-Assessments Issue
Framingham Selectmen: "The Town has faced a series of thorny and complex issues including but not limited to the recent property tax increase."
As your elected Board of Selectmen and fellow residents of Framingham, we recognize and acknowledge how trying these last several months have been for our community.
The Town has faced a series of thorny and complex issues including but not limited to the recent property tax increase. The Board, along with the Interim Town Manager and her staff are taking each issue seriously and tackling them head-on in a deliberative and thoughtful manner. Like many in Town, we each in our own way would prefer to see swift action and immediate results for all issues, especially the questions surrounding the recent property tax increase.
However, it is our responsibility as members of the Board of Selectmen that this desire is balanced in its approach and we neither over-react nor under-react, but move forward decisively and thoroughly. We have and we will continue to make the tough choices that must be made, but we will also make those choices in a
careful and professional manner
The Board of Selectmen recently responded to the complex and multidimensional tax/assessment issue with a 6-point plan to address this issue and in particular, the questions raised by Board members and the public at large.
First and foremost our plan prioritizes the need for an objective and thorough review of the Town’s assessing process and specific recommendations for improvement or alteration, based upon the results determined. This plan also includes steps to consider available options for short as well as long term solutions for residential property tax relief. We need to stay focused on this plan and not get derailed. It is our hope that we can all work together – in a respectful and cooperative manner.
At a meeting held on Jan. 10 the Board of Selectmen discussed the assessment issue and ways to approach the problem. At our next meeting on Jan. 17, we adopted the following six-point plan by a vote of 5-0.
1. Restore the confidence in the validity of the property assessments. There is nothing more basic to the property tax process than to have fairness, validity and reliability in all assessments. While the methodologies used to assess properties by the Chief Assessor did not change this year and the State Department of Revenue did certify the work and the resultant tax rate, many questions persist, especially with respect to the commercial assessments. Thus the Board of Selectmen has tasked the Town Manager to seek independent (with no ties to Framingham) professionals to conduct a thorough review of the assessment process and procedures including a detailed review and report on commercial assessment. The task would also include a review of residential assessments, answer questions raised by the community, and focus on any specific recommendations which may improve procedures, methodologies or processes.
2. Lesson learned to improve Town’s revenue forecasting and early warning
signals for revenue shortfalls. The Board of Selectmen set the tax shift between
business and residential each year, typically in December. It is at this time that
we are informed of the property assessments and tax rate determination. Because we were not given any forewarning of the significant tax shift from commercial property owners to residential property owners and the resultant impact, we as well as the Town’s residents, were surprised. The Board determined that this is unacceptable and needs to be formally changed. We are currently crafting a new policy to ensure the Board is updated in a timely manner on assessment trends and that these trends are followed through in the budgeting process.
3. Provide FY12 property tax relief that is allowable under the law. The Board reviewed options for tax relief for the current year and determined that relief for seniors is available through a vote of Town Meeting. We reviewed the options for this relief with the Chief Financial Officer and Town Assessor and immediately called a Special Town Meeting to implement it. On Wednesday night, March 14, Town Meeting approved the Board of Selectmen recommendation at Town Meeting to give additional relief to the Framingham seniors.
4. Develop FY13 budget scenarios with Board of Selectmen involvement that consider tax rate setting and prop 2.5%. The Board of Selectmen requested that the Town Manager, CFO and Finance Committee develop a budget that limits the tax levy increase to 1.5 and not the full 2.5 allowed under the law. The savings from this effort would be returned to the taxpayers to lessen the tax burden. The Board of Selectmen believes this compromise approach balances the needs for investments in education, public safety, etc. while listening to taxpayers concerns. The Board of Selectmen reviewed this option with the CFO on Feb. 23 and formally voted to request this 1.5% tax levy for the FY13 budget. This does not mean the Board will not ask for more reductions, but this was the approach we voted on 5-0 to start with.
5. Re-assessment of tax programs that encourage owner occupancy, both single family and multi-family dwellings. As a way to improve our neighborhoods by adding more stability and investments, the Board of Selectmen studied the effect of allowing a residential tax exemption for owner occupied rental properties in 2009. We determined that while the exemption for owner occupancy does benefit a significant number of owner occupied properties it also inadvertently shifted the burden to pay for this exemption to higher valued homes, along with the non owner occupied properties. Other communities using this exemption have experienced the same dilemma. The Board could thus not support this residential exemption in the current form. The Board has agreed to review our option with this exemption and to discuss ways to seek changes to the State law governing this exemption such that the entire burden can be shifted to non owner occupied properties.
6. Assessment of Framingham’s business friendliness to encourage business growth. The recent and dramatic shift in taxes from commercial to residential property owners demonstrates how vital our business community is to the overall fiscal sustainability of our community and how much a strong commercial base subsidizes the residential tax rates. By a vote of 5-0 the board voted to form a commission to assess our business friendliness and to develop actions the town can take to improve our overall business friendly environment. The Board of Selectmen sanctioned Framingham’s Economic Development and Industrial Commission in conjunction with the MetroWest Chamber of Commerce and some their members to study this issue.
It is our hope that we can focus our attention to these important areas, work together in a cooperative manner to find solutions. Framingham is a wonderful community and we must not forget what makes it so wonderful!
Framingham Board of Selectmen