HARVARD -- Selectmen accepted the Board of Assessors' recommendation to retain the town's single tax rate and to forgo other available options, such as adopting residential or small commercial exemptions.
At the annual tax classification hearing on Nov. 6, Harold Scheid, principal assessor, made the presentation for the assessors. Scheid, of Regional Resource Group Inc., serves as a regional assessor to a number of municipalities besides Harvard, including Marlborough and Bolton.
The single tax rate recommendation was made "for the same reasons cited in the past," Scheid said.
The assessors' memo stated, in part, that Harvard has always had a single tax rate and basically said there are no compelling reasons to change it now.
For example, most cities and towns with a split tax rate have commercial and industrial assessment bases of at least 10 percent, compared to Harvard's five percent CIP base.
Massachusetts law allows the CIP burden to go up by 50 percent, as long as the residential contribution doesn't fall below 65 percent.
But with the town's 95 percent residential tax base, the impact would be too great on one side and too insignificant on the other to justify the shift, according to the assessors.
For example, it would take a 20 percent commercial or CIP tax increase to reduce residential property taxes by just one percent. The assessors reasoned that an increase like that would "send a negative message" to the commercial sector and could discourage development in town.
Selectman Ron Ricci asked if personal property taxes relating to individuals, residences and businesses were raised would agriculture -- such as orchards and small farms -- be impacted, too?
The answer was yes, but it was rather a moot point, since "personal property" as a tax term applies only to businesses, not property owners, Scheid said.
Chairwoman Lucy Wallace asked if the assessors had explored the low-value residential exemption to see what the impact of adopting that option would be.
Not recently, she was told.
"It might be worth sussing out" the numbers, Wallace said, with the aim of helping some senior residents hit hard by taxes stay in their homes.
Ricci pointed out that since the tax burden would then "shift up," such a move might adversely impact seniors "on the other end" of the spectrum.
Scheid added that it couldn't be assumed older folks own the low-end properties in town, either. Having purchased their homes many years ago, some senior homeowners in Harvard could be "property rich but income poor," he said.
Selectman Marie Sobalvarro suggested a "demographic" might be helpful for a later conversation, showing property values versus owner age groups.
After further discussion, mostly academic, a motion to maintain a single tax rate passed.
Pending a final tax rate set by the Department of Revenue, the estimated tax rate for fiscal 2013 is $16.64 per $1,000 in property value. The fiscal 2012 rate is $16.24.