The selectboard set the fiscal year 2019 tax rate last week, and for the second-straight year, not everyone was in favor of the final number.
Passing the rate with a 4-1 vote, members concurred with staff recommendations to set municipal rates at $.5151 and $.5261 for village and town-outside-the-village residents, respectively.
Andy Watts said he dissented due to the so-called “highway tax,” a separate toll on Essex Town residents that effectively offsets some of what village residents pay in town taxes. Finance director Lauren Morrisseau said the tax has been on the books for at least six decades and remained at 8 cents for years.
It has since shrunk to just over a penny, raising $165,000 this year after dipping .9 percent from FY18, and staff planned to phase it out for good next year. But Watts saw no reason to wait.
“There’s no such legal entity as town-outside-the-village,” he said. “I’d like to get rid of it so that all town taxpayers are paying for town assets that we’re using that money to pay for.”
Watts also dissented from last year’s tax rate vote over qualms with how much fund balance the town was retaining. Unlike then, Watts’ colleagues agreed with his position – that the town should have one equal rate for all residents – but most were satisfied with plans to fix it next year.
“We’ve had it for so long,” selectwoman Elaine Sopchak, also a village trustee, said. “One more year is not going to kill us.”
Selectwoman Irene Wrenner, a strong voice for the needs of town-outside-the-village residents, was sympathetic with Watts’ argument but felt it was small stones compared to the broader question of representation.
“I’m all for eliminating it,” she said. “But if we don’t add … the ability for outside-the-village residents to have representation on their outside-the-village issues, then we have bigger problems.”
Tax rates have long been points of contention between the town and village since residents of the latter pay taxes into both entities. The shared-services initiative has looked to find equity between the two rates, consolidating departments and shifting the tax impact across the larger municipality in recent years, but village residents continue to pay more.
Town-outside-the-village residents who own a $280,000 home will pay $43 more in municipal taxes than last year. Cutting the highway tax would have saved them $24.
Village residents will pay $71 more than last year – the additional $29 is based on the approved tax rate in the village – while ditching the highway tax would have increased their bill by an additional $6.
The shift will be smaller next year, Morrisseau said, since spreading the $165,000 across the entire tax base will change each bill “a few dollars each way.”
The approved tax rate is slightly higher than projected when voters approved the budget on Town Meeting Day.
That’s because voters also approved a $15,000 deposit for the conservation fund and chose to add $45,000 to the general fund budget to move up the start date for a new police officer position.
Meanwhile, a fund balance transfer of $150,000 reduced the final rate by just over a halfpenny, saving the average resident about $16.