O.B. summer forum covers taxing concerns

Seasonal residents want to be kept in the loop over potential residential exemption.

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Oak Bluffs summer residents met with selectmen to discuss parking, taxes, and other issues. — Ewell Hopkins

Oak Bluffs officials fielded questions and concerns about parking, taxes, and public bathrooms from seasonal residents at its summer taxpayers forum Tuesday. The town holds the forum each year.

With Oak Bluffs exploring the possibility of implementing residential exemptions, which would reduce the taxable value of all residential parcels that are determined to be the domicile of the owner, this year’s forum took on new implications for those seasonal property owners, many of whom packed into the library meeting room.

At the forum, selectmen chairman Brian Packish quelled concerns about the residential exemption, saying investigating the impacts of the exemption is estimated to be a 16-month process. He assured seasonal residents that extensive public input would be needed before any decision is made.

“It will be a very exhaustive process,” Packish said. “There was a point of misinformation that’s been spread that we were going to approve something here tonight.”

Despite Packish’s comments, homeowners made it clear they wanted to be included in any future discussions on the exemption.

Under Massachusetts law, a person may have many residences, but only one domicile.

Newly minted principal assessor MacGregor Anderson gave an informative presentation to selectmen last month on the exemptions. Anderson also laid out the fundamentals of the exemption in a paper submitted to selectmen.

In Massachusetts, selectmen have the option of granting residential exemptions at their annual tax-rate hearing. Oak Bluffs has never offered a residential exemption to its residents. 

Many factors influence property taxes. Selectmen can decide on a residential exemption, but can also set different tax rates for commercial, industrial, and personal property, and they can grant discounts to open space or small businesses.

Tisbury is the only town on the Island offering an exemption, of 18 percent. In recent years, towns on the Cape like Provincetown, Barnstable, and Truro have adopted the exemption. Nantucket has a 25 percent residential exemption. 

For example, selectmen could grant a $50,000 exemption. If a person owns a home assessed at $500,000, they would only be taxed on $450,000. Massachusetts allows for a range of exemption amounts ranging from zero to 35 percent of the average residential property value.

Anderson estimates there are 1,650 properties in Oak Bluffs that would qualify for the exemption. 

Anderson and the assessors’ office modeled impacts of a residential exemption on the estimated number of qualifying properties, but definite impacts are impossible to know until a concrete qualification number is provided. 

A property tax exemption increases the tax rate for all residential property. The majority of homeowners would see lower total taxes due, but some residents with higher-value properties would pay more through the tax rate increase than they gain from the exemption — this is called a breakeven. 

Anderson estimates this would mean higher taxes for residents with properties assessed above $1.75 million, regardless of the exemption amount.

While a small number of residents and other groups would be negatively affected, most homeowners would enjoy substantial savings.

Anderson was available at Tuesday’s meeting, gave out information to residents, and gathered emails for those who wanted to be notified.