Questions & Answers About Amherst’s 2% Property Tax Rate Increase

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Town Manager Paul Bockelman Responds to the Amherst Indy‘s Questions

Editor’s Note: The annual tax bill for owners of Amherst homes will increase by about 2 percent beginning in 2021, the result of a 12-1 Town Council vote on November 16. 

The average Amherst home is assessed at $375,507. At the new tax rate of $21.82 per $1,000 in value, the owner will pay $8,194 in local property taxes. The tax rate for fiscal 2020 was $21.32, when the average home was assessed at $374,722, and yielded a $7,989 tax bill. Thus, the average single-family homeowner in Amherst will see their property tax bill increase by about $205 in fiscal 2021.

Amherst has 6,270 residential properties, 471 commercial properties, and 29 industrial properties. The November vote continued the use of a single tax rate for all property classifications, based on the Board of Assessors’ (BOA) recommendation, although different rates could have been set. Differing rates for residential and commercial properties would have lowered homeowner taxes by about $511, but increased business owners’ taxes by over $5,691. A BOA report which goes into further detail is here

The Amherst Indy sent questions about the tax increase to Town Manager Paul Bockelman, and received the following answers December 4. 

Q: How was the new tax rate determined?

The rate is determined in accordance with State Law. Every city and town follows the same procedure. More information may be found here: https://www.mass.gov/service-details/proposition-2-12-and-tax-rate-process

How much does the Town expect to raise from the increase, and what will the resulting funds be used for?

We estimate the amount raised from property taxes will be about $56.8 million, an increase of about $1.8 million. This includes increases allowed as permissible under Proposition 2½ and new growth due to new construction and renovations, etc. These funds are part of the Town’s budget process. The cost of Town services rise each year due to inflation, contractual increases for personnel, and rising health insurance/pension costs. As we go through the budget process, Town staff develop a budget and, ultimately, it is up to the Town Council to approve all spending. These numbers all have to be reviewed by the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) and the tax rate is not finalized until the DOR certifies it, which will happen during December. So, all of the numbers presented could be adjusted by the State.

Was the pandemic (and the associated financial strain on families) considered in making this decision?

The pandemic has had a significant impact on the Town’s finances. Much of the negative impact has been blunted by the availability of Federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act funds, which expire at the end of December. The Town has used CARES money to implement a number of programs designed to support families experiencing financial difficulties, including rental assistance, a social worker to support those impacted by Covid-19, and expansion of food pantry programs. The Town is exploring additional ways to support residents.

 Will the Town extend tax payment deadlines, as it has sometimes done in the past?

The Town was able to extend tax payment deadlines in fiscal year 2020 due to the emergency order of the Governor (Charlie Baker) that provided this leeway as an option for cities and towns. There is no such leeway for fiscal year 2021 at this point in time.Additional information on the FY21 and FY22 budgets can be found here: https://www.amherstma.gov/78/Budget

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