Sunday, June 13, 2010

FM #50 - Tax rate and split tax

This post has been refreshed. It was initially published on November 29,2009 in preparation for the Town Council meeting where the annual tax classification hearing would be held. As the tax rate and split tax is continuing to be an ongoing discussion, I want to bring this forward for the new readers and those who may have missed it the first time around.

The reporting from the Town Council meeting Wednesday Dec 9, 2009 can be found here:

This internet radio show or podcast is number 50 in the series for Franklin Matters. In this session, you give me about ten minutes and I'll fill you in on what matters in Franklin. In particular, we'll prepare for the Town Council meeting Wednesday (Dec 9, 2009) where the big item on the agenda will be the annual tax classification hearing

Time: 10 minutes, 47 seconds

MP3 File

Session Notes:

This internet radio show or podcast is number 50 in the series for Franklin Matters.

In this session, you give me about ten minutes and I'll fill you in on what matters in Franklin.

In particular, we'll prepare for the Town Council meeting this Wednesday where the big item on the agenda will be the annual tax classification hearing beginning at 7:10 PM.

This is the time and place where the Town Council determines to keep a single tax rate or decides to implement a split tax rate.

I have reviewed the data provided by the Board of Assessors for this hearing. I have also spent some time on the Dept of Revenue website obtaining some historical data on Franklin's budget, tax rate, etc.

I have prepared a few slides to share some information that I think can help understand the overall situation to get ready for the meeting Wednesday.

Page 2 shows a table showing the residential vs. commercial/industrial property mix since 1999. It has varied a little each year but generally around 80% residential and 20% commercial/industrial. The high point for residential was 82.12 in 1988 and the low point was 77.04 in 1993.

Page 3 shows the same numbers in a chart format. As there is so little variance, I think this is more clear and understandable than the table of numbers.

Page 4 shows the tax rate as it has varied throughout the years from 1988 to 2009. I really shouldn't use a line to depict the point in time number for each year, but it is much easier to view the data this way. The tax rate high point was in 1997 when it was 14.21% and the low point (in the period shown) was 8.86% in 2007. I find it interesting that the tax rate has dropped for nine of the last twelve years and yet all you hear about is our tax problem?

Well, Page 5 more clearly shows what our tax problem is. The numbers on this chart depict the average tax bill for the period 1988 through 2009. As you can see from the reddish bars, in no year did the average tax bill decrease. The tax rate line from Page 4 is also shown here. Clearly, the tax rate whether it goes up or down seems to have little effect on the tax bill. It is always going up.

There are many reasons for the increases shown. I don't have all the information to explain nor do I have the time this week to do so. What I can show on Page 6 is how the assessed value effects the tax rate. The reddish bars in this case depict the NET change in assessed total value of all the properties in Franklin. Since 2006 the commercial industrial (CI) assessed values have been in a decline. In 2006 and 2007, the new grown for CI covered the decline in valuation so there was a net grown for CI. But for 2008, 2009 and for FY 2010, the new growth has not been able to cover the decline in valuation. More importantly, on the residential side, the decline in valuation has far exceeded the new growth. Hence the overall decline in total assessed values has dropped from 4.9 billion in 2007 to 4.3 billion for FY 2010. With less tax base upon which to levy the same amount of tax revenue, guess what, the tax rate will increase. The decline in overall assessed values has driven the increase for 2008, 2009 and will do so again in 2010.

Yes, I can hear some folks now saying “let's go with a split tax rate”. With kind of property mix we have, a split tax does not solve our problem. See, the split tax does not increase overall tax revenues, it only shifts the proportion of the pie that each party pays as shown on Page 7. For a single dollar decrease in residential property tax, the CI increase would need to be $4. We don't need to shift the tax burden from one to another. We need to grow the overall tax base. We need a bigger pie.

The best opportunities for grow come from the underutilized CI space we have. You should be aware of the efforts of Bryan Taberner and others in the Department of Planning and Community Development. They are busy working to market the attractiveness of Franklin for CI uses. This is where we need to develop. We don't need additional residential properties which would further burden the school system. We need healthy growth in CI properties to provide tax revenues and maybe even provide some jobs for local residents.

Page 8 and 9 provide information on the sources of the data that I used to prepare this. As well as contact information if you have any questions or would like to review this further.

One page in the appendix that charts the “free cash” to “free cash as a percent of the overall Town budget. At the end of the last council meeting, Judy Pfeffer asked Jeff Nutting for some information on the history behind “free cash”. I expect Jeff to come back with his answer but while I was putting together my analysis, I found these numbers at the MA DOR website that may help answer part of Judy's question. I think the current administration has done very well in reducing the fluctuations that can be seen over the years. The big spike in FY 2001 I believe is likely related to the settlement that the Town won. It ended up in “free cash” before the Town Council moved it to the Stabilization Fund. (Note: It is my mistake that this paragraph of text did not get recorded. It does go along with the one page that did make it to the appendix.)

For the week ahead:
  • Finance Committee meeting on Tuesday
  • Town Council meeting Wednesday
  • Holiday Stroll on Thursday sponsored by the Downtown Partnership

I would encourage you to participate in these events.

---- ---- ----

This podcast is my public service effort for Franklin but I can't do it alone. I can use your help.

How can you help?
If you like this, please tell a neighbor.

If you don't like this, please tell me.
Thank you for listening.

For additional information, please visit

If you have questions or comments you can reach me directly at shersteve @ gmail dot com

The music for the intro and exit was provided by Michael Clark and East of Shirley. The piece is titled "Ernesto, manana" c. Michael Clark & Tintype Tunes, 2008 and used with permission.