ADAMS -- The Board of Selectmen voted Wednesday to re-establish a 1.15 split tax shift rate for fiscal 2014.
Tax rates will be set at $20.60 per $1,000 in assessed value for residential properties, an increase of $1.70 from the year prior.
The decision was made after public debate during the annual tax classification hearing.
The shift rate -- which establishes the share of the tax burden residents and businesses will pay -- has remained 1.15 since fiscal 2010..
The total spending in the budget is decided at annual Town Meeting, but the Board of Selectmen are charged with setting the tax rates in order to raise revenue.
The board shied from shifting higher tax rates onto businesses, citing concerns for economic growth in Adams. The tax rate on businesses increases as the shift rate rises.
"I'm not for raising taxes, but I'm also a realist when it comes to what needs to be done for this community," said Selectman Joseph Nowak.
Selectman Michael Ouellette was not in attendance, but said in a statement read by Chairman John Duval that he has been a "strong advocate" of lowering commercial tax rates.
Selectman Arthur Harrington pointed out that for every 5 percent the shift rate would be increased, the tax rate for residents would decrease $0.21, but increase $1.03 for businesses.
The disparity in the affect of changing the shift rate is because approximatly 80 percent of the property value in Adams is residential, not commercial.
"That makes a big difference in your businesses," Harrington said.
Duval pointed out that $1.50 of the $1.70 tax rate increase was due to school-related costs. The first significant bond payments for rennovations to the Adams-Cheshire High School began this year.
Duval also noted that prior fiscal year 2013, the town's total assessed property value fell by approximately $30,000,000, thereby raising the tax rate.
Because of low assessments, Duval said, the tax rate rises but average family tax bills are still competitively low when compared to similar towns in Berkshire County.
The average home in Adams is assessed at $134,000. The increase in the tax rate approved Wednesday will result in an approximately $250 increase in the average homeowner's 2014 tax bill.
"We do a lot for our community with the taxes we have," Nowak said.
Duval said that the town's operational budget actually decreased in fiscal 2014.
When one member of the public said the town had to "figure out how to make cuts," adminstrator Jonathan Butler responded that staff has been reduced in the police department, department of public works, and at town hall in recent years.
Jeff Lefebvre, an Adams resident, argued that the town has a low per-capita income, making the tax burden especially high.
"People can't afford to pay their taxes," Lefebvre said.
Another commenter argued that properties in Adams are underassessed, creating inflated tax rates.
"If you take every single sale in the last year, the majority did not even hit the assessed value," responded Assessor Donna MacDonald.
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