How Great Barrington Property Tax Bills Are Determined

For the editor:

Many people worry about their property tax bills. Taxpayers need to understand how budgets and the impact of rising house prices on our tax bills.

Some of the questions I heard were about how the increased dues are determined. Why did some people experience huge increases in their assessed value and others lower or closer to last year’s assessed values? Was the assessed value determined by outside visits “at the wheel”? Has it been affected by any home improvements that have been filed? Or did a neighboring house selling for much more affect the neighborhood by applying a similar increase to all neighbors?

In Great Barrington, some answers are simple and some are not:

Taxes and tax rates

  • The tax rate is primarily determined by the city budget and the Berkshire Hills Regional School District assessment (which the city does not control). There are also partial budget additions and offsets from the state, grants, local revenues, and “free cash,” which can be considered an “unrestricted reserve” or cushion.
  • Local revenues (such as accommodation and meal taxes, license fees, and cannabis revenue) are usually under-budgeted, so they add to the “cushion”, which has always been important . More recently, with cannabis revenues, this reserve has swelled and is part of the municipal budget on which we are taxed.
  • In my opinion, the size of this cushion should be debated during the budget cycle this February and lowered to lower the tax rate. This is in addition to the discussion of budget items that lead to long-term increases.

The tax rate

  • Although the city’s assessed values ​​have increased in total, this does not increase the tax rate. The increased total taxable value actually REDUCES it. All other things being equal, the tax rate would decrease proportionally. For example, if the city’s total taxable value increases by 10%, the tax rate will decrease by 10%. (From an economic development perspective, growth in the number of taxpayers implicitly lowers the tax rate if taxable values ​​also increase.)

Ratings

  • While the size of the pie (total budget) remains the same as voted, how the ‘pie’ is divided is determined by individual evaluation processes.
    • Sales of new homes are generally valued at the price paid.
    • This sometimes increases other properties in the same area.
    • If some are increased, reductions will occur in other properties to collect the same amount in total.
    • There is a discount process for challenging how assessments are applied to individual properties, but the discount application deadline is coming soon.
  • Our General Manager or Assessor should explain the current process for how individual properties are assessed.

Senior Evaluator

  • The City has had three different lead assessors over the past three years. The City must therefore ensure that the evaluation process is coherent and well understood.
  • Concerns include: What specific methods are used to determine the increase in assessed value? How often is it changed? What type of inspections are done and how do home improvements or the sale prices of neighboring homes impact other appraised values?

Taxpayers who are worried about their dues and their tax bills should apply for an abatement before February 1st, 2022, the Massachusetts deadline.

To note: This information was researched and discussed with several municipal officials.

Sharon Gregoire

Great Barrington

The author is the former chairman of Great Barrington’s finance committee.














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