WILBRAHAM – The Board of Selectmen set the fiscal year 2016 (FY16) tax rate at $21.60 per $1,000 of assessed value of residential and commercial properties following a tax classification hearing during its Oct. 26 meeting.
The tax rate set for FY15 was $20.88.
Principal Assessor Manuel Silva presented three options to the board regarding the FY16 tax rate, which included a residential tax exemption and a small commercial exemption, neither of which was chosen.
The residential tax exemption included the board applying “an exemption of not more than 20 percent of the average assessed value of all residential parcels,” he added.
By adopting this option, approximately 3,143 homeowners would have received a decrease in taxes while 1,984 homeowners would have seen an increase in their tax, Silva said. The tax rate average would have been $26.69 per $1,000 of assessed value.
Homes worth $272,000 or more would have seen their taxes increase, while homeowners with property worth less than that amount would have received tax decreases, he explained.
The small commercial exemption would have entailed an exemption of 10 percent of the value of commercial parcels valued at less than $1 million that are occupied solely by businesses with an average annual employment of no more than 10 people.
Silva said 29 commercial parcels were eligible for this exemption and it would have set the commercial and industrial tax rate at $21.75 per $1,000 of assessed value.
“The commercial property exemption seems like it might have some appeal for small businesses owners and the like and it’s the only place where it seems like the impact’s on everybody else,” Selectman Susan Bunnell said.
Resident John Broderick stated during the hearing that the town could benefit by negotiating payment in lieu of taxes from nonprofit organizations such as Wilbraham & Monson Academy (WMA) and the Scantic Valley YMCA.
He added that the town could gain approximately $115,000 from WMA and $32,000 from the YMCA annually for payments in lieu of taxes.
In other business, Town Administrator Nick Breault announced that he met with representatives of the Eastern Hampden County Veterans Service District in hopes of the town joining the group to utilize the service of its full-time veteran’s service officer.
Communities participating in the district include Monson, Wales, Hampden, and East Longmeadow, he noted.
Breault told Reminder Publications prior to the meeting that part-time Veterans Agent Richard Prochnow plans to retire and has been in the position for about 28 years.
He explained during the meeting that the town was grandfathered from a Massachusetts state law requiring the town to hire a full-time veterans agent. Now that Prochnow is planning to leave the position in December, the town must comply with that law.
The town currently pays approximately $5,500 for the part-time veterans agent salary, which is a five-hour per week position, Breault said.
“The agent, Mr. John Comerford, seemed to think that the caseload that Wilbraham currently has he could relatively easily absorb that case load without any issues of service delivery for the veterans,” Breault added.
Breault said all of the town representatives for the district were not present during the meeting, but it is possible that the district would invite the town to join if it were willing to do so.
He added that he has also been in contact with Ludlow and East Longmeadow, respectively, about sharing a full-time veterans agent between the two towns.
Board of Selectmen Chair Robert Boilard said prior to the Oct. 26 meeting that his fear is that by not having a veteran’s agent in-house the services to town veterans may be jeopardized.
“We had a guy that was there at a drop of dime to help anyone who needed help,” he added. “If we go regional is that service still going to be the same? As far as any town department, you’re working on a fine line so to hire a full-time veterans agent does not make any sense for the duties at hand.”