LETTER: Watertown Taxes Low, Increase from CPA Will Not Be Too Painful


Dear Editor:

Some of the Anti-Community Preservation Act people argue that $100/year in new taxes is too much for Watertown residents to swallow. So, if that is true, how come when the 4,932 single family homeowners in Watertown received tax reductions of between $100-400 last year there wasn’t more jumping for joy or fainting with elation? My guess is it’s because they didn’t even notice. But it’s true! The residential tax rate for FY16 was lowered from $15.03 to $13.68 AND the residential exemption went up from $1,357 to $1,416 so that, I believe, every single-family homeowner received a tax deduction. You can do the math yourself – I’ll show you how at the end of this note.

There are 2,843 2-family homeowners in Watertown and many of them did see an increase in FY16 but as has been previously reported that is because most of those 2-family homeowners had flat assessments for several years in a row, meaning very nominal tax increases those years and then boom when the assessments finally went up so did their tax bill. However, in my pouring over tax assessments I did find many 2-family homes that saw the same tax deduction as the single family homeowners because they had kept up with regular consistent assessments.

So why were taxes able to go down for so many homeowners in Watertown in 2016? Because of the growth in the tax base. As much as people may not like the development going on in Watertown it does increase the tax base and therefore decrease the individual tax burden on homeowners.

Also, a tiny bit of context. According to a Boston Globe article of January 2016, the average Watertown tax bill is $5,666 and the median income is $86,461. That means that Watertown households are paying about 7% of their income in property taxes. I ran similar numbers for the towns that surround us: Arlington 8%, Lexington, Newton and Cambridge are all 9%, Belmont is 10% and Brookline (the only one of this list that does not have the CPA) is a whopping 16%. So, again, I think Watertown residents might be jumping for joy and heartily thanking our Town Council for keeping our taxes so low while providing a very high quality of life. I’m voting yes on Question 5 so that we can continue to invest in our fabulous town in new and creative ways.

If you’d like to know how your tax bills have varied over time just go to:

1) http://watertown.patriotproperties.com/default.asp There you can enter your address, find your home, click on “Previous Assessment” to see the historical valuations of your property.

2) http://www.ci.watertown.ma.us/DocumentCenter/View/18292 Then you need a document called “Tax Rate History” for the Town of Watertown which shows you the historical tax rates and residential exemptions.

3) Now you can do the math for any one year and then compare years:

(Your total tax assessment divided by 1,000) times (the tax rate) minus (the residential exemption) = your bill

p.s. Watertown is one of only 13 towns in Massachusetts that has a “residential exemption,” which is another reason to go hug your Town Councillor.


Jennifer Van Campen
Phillips St., Watertown

20 thoughts on “LETTER: Watertown Taxes Low, Increase from CPA Will Not Be Too Painful

  1. Megan, are you suggesting well intended opponents of the CPA , who have shown examples of how to fund these endeavors privately are indeed insane? When one separates facts from opinions a whole different conversation ensues. The CPA benefiting ALL of Watertown is an your opinion. The fact that citizens are on record as saying the will not, under any circumstances, vote for this AND an inevitable school override is a fact, not an opinion. Please, let’s not confuse the two. One out of 4 households are paying more than 30% of their income for rent/mortgage-making too much for an exemption and leases that allow this to be passed on to them. Where in this town do I point them to get someone to listen and empathize with their very real concerns? They are out there and they are many!

  2. Watertown Taxes Low?! I pay $9,200 a year for my 2 family. Taxes too low you say? I love the beautiful people with their liberal dreams ready to stick their hands further into the tax payers pocket!

  3. I made a mistake-I was incorrect when I said 1 out of 4 or 25% of homes…Its actually HIGHER!!!! Its 45% of homeowners and 35% of renters. From the Watertown Housing Production Plan: Key Findings
     Watertown’s median income is increasing, but remains significantly below that of the
    Boston-Cambridge-Quincy MSA.
     Housing cost burden is a significant issue in Watertown. 45% of owners and 35% of
    renters are cost burdened (spend more than 30% of gross income on housing costs),
    and 16% of owners and 15% of renters are severely cost burdened (spend more than
    50% of gross income on housing costs)
     Low-income households are more cost burdened than high-income households.

  4. I am puzzled by your housing numbers. Here are three sources regarding Watertown housing stats. Which one are you referring to?

    (1) According to the 2014 Watertown Housing Production Plan, pg. 15, info from 2010 American Community Survey (ACS) for 02472 there were 4,932 single family homes and 5,686 two-family homes. http://www.mass.gov/hed/docs/dhcd/cd/pp/watertown.pdf

    (2) The 2014 ACS 02472 Selected Housing Characteristics shows 3,749 1-unit detached, 1,525 1-unit attached, 4,914 2-units….http://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?src=CF

    (3) The Fiscal Year 2016 Classification Hearing presentation on November 24, 2015 pg. 5, indicates that there are 2,903 single family homes, 3,426 condos, 2,791 2 family, … http://www.ci.watertown.ma.us/DocumentCenter/View/18160. Page 7 of this presentation also shows a tax rate comparison of nearby communities.

  5. I appreciate the math – but the rate is an afterthought on how the town taxes us.

    What the town does *not* do is decide on a rate then multiply that by your assessment (presumably fairly determined) and get your taxes, add up all our taxes and live with that income. Obviously the town can get what ever number it wants by adjusting the assessment and leaving the rate alone or even dropping it. This is why your tax bill goes up even if rates drop.

    Instead, the town takes its budget for the prior year, adds in the 2.5% increase (limit they can get away with without an override), plus some growth and arrives at a number that it needs to raise. It then decides on a commercial vs residential ratio and a relative split between single and multifamilys and then the residential exemption. Your assessment only matters relative to all the other properties in Watertown and the town government is picking types of property to benefit and punish when it sets these relative splits. Look at the town budget / tax slides – It proceeds in exactly that order, and the last thing calculated is the effective rate. This shocked me when I moved here, because I came from a town in another state that actually set tax rates and assessments for 5 year periods and had to live within a budget so determined.

    And while I have the comment going – I disagree with those who say the CPA doesn’t impact the ability of the town citizens to fund schools. If you take some tax from me this year (and years hence), I will have less that I am willing to share for schools. My budget isn’t bottomless – taking some out now leaves less the next time I’m asked. That’s math as I understand it.

  6. Whether it’s $100, $1,000 or a single cent, it is foolish to simply hand over money to a group a special interests to spend at their musings.

    The CPA Proponents haven’t submitted a single proposal, including any details about cost, time frame, or need. Yet they are asking Watertown Residents, homeowners and renters alike, to give them $2 million a year to play with. We are just supposed to trust an unelected, unaccountable, shadow government CPA Committee to spend out money wisely.

  7. I believe there is more rental property than owner occupied property in Watertown at this time. Unless I am mistaken, renters won’t directly pay the CPA tax, property owners and landlords will. And, of course, landlords can always choose not to pass that cost on renters who can’t afford an increase. It is in a landlord’s best interest to invest in Watertown and support improvements to the town, because those improvements will attract renters and increase the value of their property. I find it interesting that some people who can easily afford the small CPA increase are so vocal against it.

    • What planet do you live on. A landlord is not in the business of providing charity. When his or her costs go up, they pass them on to tenants… just as businesses pass on increase costs to the customers.

      And how is it in a landlord’s interest to see the town spend more money on publicly subsidized housing pray tell? Sure I know a lot store keepers that want to pay taxes to subsidize artificially low prices in a store being built up the street… Yeah that makes sense.

      What are these so-called improvements ? What’s the price tag ? Show us a list of definitive plans, include cost projections, estimates from contractors, time frames, will you need to issue bonds to get the specific project done. That’s how the real world works.

      Instead you expect residents, homeowners and renters alike to fork over a bundle of money and trust a bunch of special interests whose political leanings already prove they have a proclivity for wasteful spending.

      All you want is a slush fund so you splurge on hair-brained proposals we don’t need.

    • Mr Chosiad, I rented here for over 5 years before I got married and we purchased. Leases have “escalation clauses” that are there for this very reason (CPA and other new taxes) If this passes, someone who signed a lease the day before can expect their landlord to pass the tax on in the form of a very swift, legal rent increase. As a tenant as long as the landlords costs didn’t increase from a CPA Tax, property tax, etc, my rent would stay the same. Yes, I can afford this Too many cannot and that’s who I am speaking of/for. No one’s listening to them. I have had to explain escalation clauses to many and they are the ones who are already feeling the pinch the most Please look at the The Wtaretrtown Housing Production Plan- That’s more then 1 out of every 4 renters! “Housing cost burden is a significant issue in Watertown. 45% of owners and 35% of renters are cost burdened (spend more than 30% of gross income on housing costs),and 16% of owners and 15% of renters are severely cost burdened (spend more than 50% of gross income on housing costs)”

  8. Why am I not surprised that immediately after this letter in the Watertown news is a notification for a great many open houses!

  9. The unmitigated gall to suggest that we should be dancing in the street because Watertown Taxes are low. And the joke to suggest we should hug our Councilors.
    I can think of 5 that need to sent packing in 2017.. namely those who have endorsed this sham.

  10. A few weeks ago I attended a meeting at the Coolidge Apartments
    which oh by the way USED TO BE A SCHOOL. The purpose of the meeting
    was to discuss the forth coming ballot questions.

    Speakers both pro and con spoke on all the ballot questions. There was no
    verbal input allowed from the audience which was comprised of mostly seniors.
    If you had a question you had to write it down on a 3X5 card and submit it.

    When it came time for a pro CPA speaker, a lady came up and expounded with
    exuberant enthusiasm on how wonderful things could be done if the CPA

    She cited several examples. One example was to restore the Shick house on
    Grove Street because it had historical significance.

    The only historical significance the Shick had for me was I could go there for
    used auto parts from Abe’s extensive collection of junk cars.

    Could someone explain the historical history of this property? I’m new in town.
    I’ve only been here 70 years.

    By the way, in case you haven’t guessed, this CPA is just more foolishness.

    Vote NO on the CPA.

  11. Just a quick reminder that a homeowner who is a single person household earning up to $51,150 per year is EXEMPT from paying the CPA surcharge and a SENIOR homeowner who is a single person household earning up to $68,670 is also exempt. For more information on exemptions visit http://www.investinwatertown.org.

  12. I see a breakdown of “Possible Exemptions” in an earlier investinwatertrown.org . online “publication”.
    I trust that the other figures are accurate. ( 2 People – 3 People etc.)
    Also I would like an answer to this question:
    On John 7, 2016 John Ovoian asked this question online:
    Do the income levels for exemptions include social security
    or is it just earned income from a job?

    The answer from cpawwatertown was:
    ” In determining the income levels the Town Assessor would consider all
    sources of income: jobs (if any), social security, pensions, and investment income
    (bank interest, rental income, etc) Thank you for your question!

    Since when would a Town Assessor even have the right to inquire about your financial

  13. 2016 Affordable Housing Income Limits

    Moderate Income is 100% of the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Area-wide Median Income (AMI) figure; Low income is 80% of HUD’s AMI figure’.

    Please note: Due to the definition of Low Income Housing in the CPA Statue, these Low income Limits are slightly different from HUD’s Low Income figures.

    AMI for a Family of four = $91,100

    Household Size (HH size)
    Low income limits – property owned & occupied by a non-senior (LI/non-senior)
    Moderate Income limits – property owned & occupied by a senior 60 or older (MI-senior 60+)

    HH size ________ LI/non-senior__________MI/senior 60+

    Source: http://www.communitypreservation.org

  14. To: Elodia Thomas

    Thank you for the Exemption numbers breakdown. I already have those
    numbers. But my question still isn’t answered.

    From the Watertown CPA website the following statement was made, and I quote:

    ” In determining the income levels the Town Assessor would consider all
    sources of income: jobs (if any), social security, pensions, and investment income
    (bank interest, rental income, etc)

    And once again I ask. What right does the Watertown Assessor have to ask about my private financial information? I would appreciate a specific answer.

    • Hi Harry,

      The way I understand your question and the issue, the Assessor asks for the financial information if you are applying to get an exemption from the tax surcharge for the CPA. So not everyone in town is asked to give their information.

      If you are asking philosophically, well, that’s a whole other question.

      Charlie Breitrose

  15. Charlie,
    These are the CPA Exemption criteria that Arlington uses. I would imagine they are
    the same as other cities / towns that have adopted the CPA:

    Exemption Eligibility Requirements:
     The Low/Moderate Income Exemption applies only to Residential property.
     Exempt status is determined as of January 1. All ownership, occupancy, age, or age must be met as of that date.
     Applicant must own and occupy the property as of January 1. Applicant may be: (1) sole owner, (2) co-owner, (3) life tenant or (4) trustee with sufficient beneficial interest in property under terms of trust. All co-owners do not have to occupy the property; however, each co-owner must meet the Annual Household Income standard. For property subject to a trust, each co-trustee must also meet income standard.
     Applicant must provide proof of age to determine whether: 1) 60 years old or older (Senior Household Type), or 2) under 60 (Non-Senior Household type).
     Applicant must provide proof of Annual Household Gross Income from all household members who are 18 or older and not full time students for the previous calendar year.
     Applicant must provide proof of number of dependents.
    Determination of Eligibility of Applicant’s (Net) Annual Household Income:
    1. Determine Annual Household Gross Income from all sources (including all household members who are 18 or older and not full time students during the previous calendar year).
     Includes: wages, salaries and bonuses, public and private pensions, retirement income, Social Security, alimony, child support, interest and dividend income, net income from business, public assistance, disability and unemployment insurance, regular contributions/gifts from party outside of the household.
    2. Deduct allowance for Dependents.
     Number of dependents on January 1 (not including spouse) x $300 (Established by the State Department of Housing and Community Development, 760 Code of Massachusetts Regulations 6.05(4)).
    3. Deduct (certain) Medical Expenses.
     Total out of pocket medical expenses of all household members for the preceding calendar year, (total must exceed 3% of household annual gross income in order to be deducted).
     Out of pocket medical expenses must be documented and includes: health insurance premiums, payments to doctors, hospitals and other health care providers, diagnostic test, prescription drugs, medical equipment or other expenses not paid or reimbursed by employers, public/private insurers or other third parties.
    4. Equals Household Annual Income for CPA Exemptions.
     The result is the (Net) Annual Household Income to be used for the application for the CPA Low/Moderate Income Exemption. This amount cannot exceed the Annual Limits for Household Type and Size (see chart above).

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