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Property tax bills to increase significantly in fiscal year 2014

Date: 12/12/2013

By Chris Maza

EAST LONGMEADOW – Residents may experience a bit of sticker shock when they open their next property tax bill.

The Assessors Office recently announced a fiscal year 2014 (FY14) tax rate of $20.47 per $1,000 assessed value, the highest rate since 2004 when residents paid $20.73.

The new rate represents a $1.85 increase from the FY13 figure of $18.62.

Director of Assessing Diane Bishop told Reminder Publications the average residential tax bill would jump from $4,674 to $5,117, an increase $441. The average home value remained essentially the same from FY13 to FY14 at approximately $250,000.

Russell Denver, chair of the Appropriations Committee explained that there were several factors that went into the dramatic increase, including the fact that unlike last year, the town was taxing to the maximum levy limit.

“The town did not tax to the maximum levy limit last year and we have not taxed to the maximum at least two of the last five years,” he said. “Eventually that catches up with you and this is the year the town catches up.”

Denver said increases in the budget approved at Town Meeting were most significant in the areas of education, health insurance, as well as additional assessments from the Hampden County Retirement Board equaling more than $200,000.

“Most increases have to do with personnel,” he said. “There are contracts that are agreed to and with those contracts are built-in increases in pay, as well as retirement and insurance costs.”

Denver added that the school department budget has increased by nearly $1 million due to American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grants utilized by the district expiring.

Superintendent of Schools Gordon Smith said while the district utilized ARRA grants to increase technology and curriculum development efforts in the district – including the hiring of three academic coaches during the past four years – the schools have been “weaning off the grants” in anticipation of their expiration in order to lessen the blow.

The district, however, recently purchased new equipment and educational materials as part of the district’s five-year cycle developed to “create a uniform process for curriculum renewal.”

Year one requires schools to analyze their curriculums and determine what their needs are in order to become aligned with Common Core Standards. Year two consists of a presentation of those findings to the administration and School Committee and the purchasing of those items. Schools implement the new tools in year three and then collect data on the results of the new practices in years four and five.

“During year two, the district made lager-scale purchases to support the students and that, I think, is the largest portion of the increases,” he said.

Tax bills will be mailed out prior to Dec. 31 with third and fourth quarter tax bills mailed together. The third quarter bill, which is the first bill with the FY14 rate, is due Feb. 3, 2014. Fourth quarter tax bills are due on May 1, 2014.

Questions regarding tax payments should be made to the Town Collector’s office by phone at 525-5400, ext. 1000. Residents with questions about the assessed value of their property should contact the Assessor’s Office at 525-5400, ext.1600.

Any tax abatement applications must be filed with the Board of Assessors after the actual tax bills are mailed, but no later than the third quarter due date of Feb. 3, 2014.