Athol Selectboard sticks with single tax rate

  • Athol Assessor Lisa Aldrich (center) briefs the town’s Selectboard on her recommendation to maintain a single tax rate for residential and commercial/industrial properties in Athol. At left is Ken Vaidulas, chairman of the Board of Assessors. PHOTO BY GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News 
Published: 11/17/2022 5:35:36 PM
Modified: 11/17/2022 5:35:36 PM

ATHOL — Athol’s Selectboard voted Tuesday to maintain a policy of taxing all residential and commercial/industrial properties at the same rate.

The vote translates into an across-the-board tax rate of $14.04 per $1,000 in property value for fiscal year 2023, a reduction of just over $2 from the current year’s rate of $16.05/$1,000. Had the board shifted to a split rate, documentation provided by Town Accountant Lisa Aldrich indicated the FY23 rate for residential property would have been $13.03, while commercial/industrial property would have been taxed at a rate of $21.06.

Aldrich began her presentation to the board by stating, “First of all, which I think is kind of cool, Athol’s total taxable value crossed the billion dollar threshold — first time ever.”

The total figure of taxable property in Athol, she reported, now stands at $1,175,458.627. She said much of the reason for the increase was “due in part to this crazy market we’re feeling right now.” The total, Aldrich said, represents an increase of nearly 19% in taxable value over last fiscal year.

Aldrich went on to explain that the value of a single-family home in Athol has increased $42,000 to an average of $248,900. Despite the decrease in the actual tax rate, the corresponding increase in property value means the average annual tax bill will increase by just over $175.

“In that increase this year,” she said, “is the bonding for the high school improvements, which Athol pays 93 percent of, and Royalston pays the other 7 percent. So, it’s in our tax rate this year.”

“This is the project that was done about three years ago,” interjected Ken Vaidulas, chairman of the Board of Assessors. “It took a while. It was the roof, the windows, the new boiler. So, it kicked in this year.”

Aldrich said that residential property currently accounts for more than 87% of all property in Athol, compared to just over 85% last year. The increase, she said, is accounted for by the fact that “we had 25 new houses last year hit the tax rolls.” The proportion of commercial/industrial property approaches about 13% of the town’s total. The assessor said that statistic argues in favor maintaining the town’s single tax rate.

“Typically,” she explained, “the school of thought on this is if you’re 27 percent commercial/industrial, then it’s feasible to shift the rate. We’re going down. Instead of a lot of commercial, we’re building houses. And it’s not just the DeMoula’s (Market Basket), it’s the little restaurants in town, and the personal property — they would feel the effects of a split rate greatly. So, as always, we recommend a single tax rate.”

The Selectboard agreed, voting unanimously to stay with the flat rate.

Reacting to Aldrich’s positive report, Town Manager Shaun Suhoski told the Athol Daily News, “Athol’s been experiencing positive growth, in a good trajectory, over the past almost decade now. And, wow, much like other areas of the commonwealth as well, the value of property is going up. That’s good news for folks who have invested here and have homes here, certainly to increase the value of their net worth.

“The impact on the tax rate … of course it’s positive in the sense that it brings the tax rate down. But the rate is a function of value, so really you have to look at the overall tax burden. Even with the growth in the valuation in town, you take into account the lower tax rate and the debt for the high school repairs, the roof, the windows, the boiler, the doors up there at the high school. So, that hit the tax rate. So, that hit the tax rate and what we’re going to see is that the average bill will grow by about $175 for the year.”

Suhoski conceded that no one likes to see an increase in their taxes.

“That’s certainly not the goal of the town, employees, the staff, the elected officials, to do that, but we’re fortunate that, even so, our tax burden in relation to the commonwealth, from the numbers I’ve seen, will still be in the lower 25 percent when you look at our actual tax bills.

“So, we feel we’re in a spot where people get good value for their tax dollar. The assessors have done a great job in their work, and it’s pretty cool to have over a billion dollars in valuation in town.”

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com. 


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