While some of that increase came about because of a need to pay for the annual increase in the Town budget, most of the increase is the result of a significant shift of the tax burden away from commercial taxpayers towards residential taxpayers.
These facts are clear, but the details for a proper understanding of why there was such a large shift and what trends that may represent have not been forthcoming from Town officials.
The shift from commercial taxpayers to residential taxpayers was the result of a corresponding shift in the total valuations of commercial and residential properties. The total value of commercial properties in Framingham decreased while the total value of residential properties increased. This causes more of the tax burden to fall upon the residential taxpayer.
What is remarkable in this shift is that no other community in Massachusetts, of a size similar to Framingham's, saw a shift even remotely comparable to Framingham's.
In fact, looking back over the past five years there has never been a shift even close to the magnitude of the one experienced by Framingham this year.
An extraordinarily large shift such as this, so out of line with expectation, deserves an extraordinarily large explanation on the part of Town officials.
Up to now, little to no explanation has been offered. While deplorable in and of itself, the lack of any such explanation has also revealed a gaping hole in the assessment process.
Taxpayers, both commercial and residential, are completely in the dark as to the manner in which their particular assessment is calculated.
It has long been the case that the “record card” for each parcel of land in the Town was publicly available. These cards state the assessed value of every parcel in the Town, and contain numerous measurements of the parcel: the size of the lot, the size of the building, building quality and so on. Over time, these cards have moved from literal paper cards to the fully indexed on-line property database we have today. This is great progress, but it is only one piece of the puzzle. Connecting the attributes present on the record card to the final assessed value of a property requires the use of some formula. Without knowledge of the internal workings of that formula a taxpayer cannot truly understand their assessment. Incomplete information is little better than none at all.
It is certainly the case that the specifics of such a formula are complex. Twenty years ago, it would probably have not been practical to publish the details of the calculation. However, today we live in a different world. Information technology has not only provided the Assessors Office the means to do the calculation efficiently via spreadsheets and similar software, it has also provided them the
means to share its details via the Town website.
The assessment process must be fair. If the assessment of a property is not a direct function of the attributes of the property, if the valuations are assigned arbitrarily with undue reliance on discretion, they are inherently unfair.
The assessment process must be seen to be fair. It is not sufficient to publish the record card without spelling out exactly how the attributes present on the record card lead to the assessed value of a property.
The extraordinary shift of the tax burden from commercial to residential taxpayer this year may be due to an error or may be accurate.
As taxpayers we rely on Town officials to provide a detailed and reasoned explanation, and to back that explanation with facts.
Whether unable or unwilling, they have so far failed to provide an explanation, that is no excuse for them to withhold the facts.
As a Town Meeting member, it is my intention to make it a requirement that going forward all the facts, are a part of the public record.
Framingham Town Meeting member, precinct 2