The Council voted this week to file a home rule petition with the State Legislature that would allow the Council to increase the residential tax exemption to a maximum of 30 percent in future years.
The council voted to file the petition in order to give them flexibility to increase the residential exemption beyond the current ceiling of 20 percent. Francis J. Golden, Chairman of the Board of Assessors, said that 6,058 residential properties would benefit from raising the exemption, while residential properties valued at more than $750,000 would absorb a higher tax burden.
Golden stressed that voting for the home rule petition did not mean the Council was required to increase it beyond its current ceiling.
“I stress that it’s important that we just have the flexibility,” Golden said. “It’s not something that we have to exercise, but it’s something that we want to have in place to have the option when we need to do so.”
Council President Mark Sideris said that he was concerned that by asking for the home rule petition this year, residents might expect the council to raise the exemption in 2016. He also said he was concerned about how the increased exemption would effect homeowners who are renting out their properties.
“I do have concerns about the majority of people that fall under the $750,000 that have invested in this community, maybe years ago they lived in the house and they left, but they kept the house,” Sideris said. “We’re going to put the burden of those people too.”
While Councilor Vincent Picirilli also stressed that voting for the petition didn’t mean the Council was prepared to increase the exemption, and even urged caution in increasing it, he also though it was important for the town to have the option to do so.
“It may give us the flexibility to increase that 20 percent to something else,” Picirilli said. “But that can only happen once we actually have the home rule petition approved. If we don’t have the home rule petition approved we can’t even have that discussion.”
Councilor Angeline Kounelis said that she has supported the home rule petition for sometime, and there are many residents who have lived in town for a long time that have seen their property values rise so high that they’re having a tough time affording their tax bills.
Councilor Ken Woodland agreed, and said he would also support the petition.
“At this stage I would agree with Councilor Kounelis that it’s about time that we start giving a bit more support to long term home owners in town,” Woodland said.
Councilor Tony Palomba was the lone councilor who voted against filing the petition and asked for more time to study the implications of increasing the exemption. Palomba specifically said he was worried that the increased tax burden facing homeowners who rent their properties would just be passed on to their tenants.
“I don’t subscribe to the belief that landowners will absorb increased costs as a cost of doing business, but will pass that cost on to other people,” Palomba said. “I know a number of people who rent in town, and I want them to be able to stay in town.”
Palomba made a motion to refer the subject to the committee on economic development and planning, but it was defeated.
Boston, Cambridge, Malden, and Somerville are among 13 other communities that have successfully filed a home rule petition, according to a report presented by Golden. State Representative Jonathan Hecht prepared a draft of the petition on behalf of the town.