Oak Bluffs selectmen voted to keep the same single tax rate at their annual tax rate hearing Tuesday.
The town’s principal assessor, MacGregor Anderson, gave selectmen a rundown of the town’s property tax situation.
Total taxable property values are up 6.3 percent, giving the town a $3.4 billion valuation: 4,572 residential parcels valued at $3.1 billion; 194 commercial parcels valued at $168 million; 2,232 personal property parcels valued at $58.2 million; six industrial properties valued at $5.6 million; and 44 open space parcels valued at $1.8 million. The town’s excess levy capacity is $33,000.
Anderson estimated the single tax rate for this year to be $7.44, which is down from $7.69 last year. Selectman Gail Barmakian asked if this was good news for property owners.
“It is a good thing. It means people are building wealth in their properties, and the spending, or the amount of taxation, is going up more slowly,” Anderson said.
While selectmen decided to keep the single tax rate, selectman Michael Santoro acknowledged the town was in the midst of exploring the possibility of implementing a residential exemption, which would reduce the taxable value of all residential parcels that are determined to be the domicile of the owner. Under Massachusetts law, a person may have many residences, but only one domicile.
At a special town meeting last month, voters agreed to spend $22,500 to pay for an assessing clerk position for the current fiscal year. The position is to assist Anderson as the town explores the possibility of the exemption. The town has not hired anyone yet to fill the position.
Each year the town has the option of granting a residential exemption. Historically, the town has chosen a single tax rate, having everybody pay the same amount, and has never offered a residential exemption.
A property tax exemption increases the tax rate for all residential property, but offers an up to 35 percent exemption for all domiciles. The majority of homeowners in town would see lower total taxes due, but vacant land, nonqualifying residential dwellings, and owner-occupied homes with a value greater than $2 million would pay more in taxes — while a small number of residents and other groups would be negatively affected, most homeowners would enjoy substantial savings.
There are several factors that influence property taxes. At Tuesday’s hearing, selectmen had the option of setting additional rates for commercial, industrial, and personal property, and they could have granted discounts for open space and small businesses, but chose to keep the single rate.
Tisbury — the only town on the Island offering a residential exemption — has an 18 percent exemption. In recent years, Cape towns like Provincetown, Barnstable, and Truro have adopted residential exemptions. 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, which is $696,301. Qualifying properties would then deduct that chosen percentage amount from their value and the remaining value would be taxed at a higher rate.
Anderson has estimated there are 1,650 properties in town that would qualify for the exemption.
All of Anderson’s estimates on the impacts of a residential exemption are estimates. Actual impacts are impossible to know until concrete numbers are established, which would take several months to determine.
For the past few years, Anderson said lower value properties, under $500,000, are seeing the most increase in value percentage-wise.
As of January, there are 868 single-family homes assessed at under $500,000, 227 of which are located in the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association. The average value for a single-family home in Oak Bluffs is $756,615, and the median value home is $609,550.
“This is true not just here, but all around the Cape and the Islands. So though we might be up on average 6.3 percent, homes under half a million dollars are going to be up 9 to 10 percent on average in value,” Anderson said. “The bigger tax bills are coming at the lower dollar value.”
Lower value property owners will see higher percentage increases in their tax bills, Anderson told The Times. They will not see bigger tax bills than those received by higher value property owners.
Selectman Jason Balboni made it clear there would not be much change for this year. “Everything’s staying the same,” Balboni said.
In other business, selectmen voted to open Oak Bluffs Harbor for recreational shellfishing on Dec. 7 and commercial shellfishing on Dec. 9.