Watertown homeowners should see a reduction in their property tax bills in the next Fiscal Year, City Manager George Proakis shared with the City Council Tuesday night.
The Council also heard about the dates when they will hear the proposed uses of the City’s ARPA funds, and complaints about a pair of road projects.
The Fiscal Year 2024 tax rates will be presented by the Town Assessor on Nov. 14, but Proakis provided a preview on a key highlight of the presentation at the Oct. 24 City Council meeting: a reduction of about 10 percent for the average Watertown residential property tax payer.
“Last week, with the assistance and amazing work of our (State House) delegation, on (Oct. 20) early in the afternoon Gov. Healey signed what is now called Chapter 58 of the Acts of 2023, which is our home rule petition which allows us to shift the tax rate back,” Proakis said.
For many years, up until a few years ago, Watertown shifted the tax burden from residential properties to commercial properties at a rate of 175 percent, Proakis said. For the past few years, however, City officials have not been able to make the full shift to the commercial side because of a law made in the 1980s. With the increase in the value of commercial properties in town, they made up more than the allowable amount, and required that 61.6 percent of the taxes come from residential properties.
In August 2022, the City Council passed a resolution to allow the City to file the Home Rule legislation to allow 50 percent of the tax be paid by residential properties and the other 50 percent be on commercial ones. This will result in a drop in taxes in Fiscal Year 2024, the current fiscal year.
“On the average residential tax bill for someone with the residential exemption — which was $7,306 in Fiscal Year ’23 — in Fiscal Year ’24, if (the Council chooses) to accept this tax classification plan, is $6,587,” Proakis said. “Which basically means the average homeowner will be getting between a 9 and 10 percent decrease in property taxes in Fiscal Year 24.”
Increasing the shift was opposed by the Charles River Regional Chamber, which has a membership that includes businesses in Watertown. Proakis acknowledged that commercial property owners would be paying a bigger share than in the past few years.
“Obviously, I want our commercial property owners to be successful, but I think when most folks come here and do commercial development in Watertown they are aware we are a full tax shift community and that that 175 percent tax shift is where they should expect things to be, and it had slipped down a little bit,” Proakis said.
More details on the tax rates will be provided by City Assessor Earl Smith at the Nov. 14 City Council meeting.
The City of Watertown received $10.7 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. The City Council received 32 applications from City departments, community organizations, and individuals requesting a portion of the money.
The Council will hold a pair of meetings to begin to review the proposals, Proakis said. The meetings will be held on Nov. 8 and Nov. 9, both beginning at 5:30 p.m.
Some of the groups that have made funding requests are the Department of Public Works, the Watertown Free Public Library, Wayside Youth & Family Network, the Watertown Housing Authority, the Watertown Boys & Girls Club, and Watertown Cable Access Television. See more information about the proposals by clicking here.
Concerns About Street Projects
The City Council heard complaints and concerns about two areas of town at Tuesday’s meeting.
Multiple residents expressed their dissatisfaction with how long the street and sidewalk replacement project on Highland Avenue is taking. One Westside resident worried about the lack of a marked crosswalk and school crossing zone for students heading to and from Cunniff Elementary School.
Another resident said that the project reduced the curb cut for his three-car driveway to 17.5 feet, meaning he needs to drive over a curb to get into one of his spots, and sometimes his is blocked by a car parked along the curb. He has reached out to the City to request the driveway be widened, but has been repeatedly denied.
In the East End, residents living near Hosmer Elementary School are concerned about changes requested by the school for Winthrop and Hancock streets, including making them one way so that residents would no longer be able to turn both ways out of their driveways during school hours. The proposals are on the Traffic Commission’s agenda for the meeting on Oct. 25 at 7 p.m
She also noted that multiple residents had been “harassed” by parents, teachers, and crossing guards during the morning drop-off periods. Also, that parents sometimes block driveways with their vehicles while walking children over to the school.
The resident requested a meeting be held where residents can talk to City Councilors and other decision makers about their concerns.