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Devens tax bills go out this week, MassDev. details costs

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DEVENS — Property tax bills for Devens residents that reflect an unpopular increase will be mailed today. Assuming a residential tax rate of $10.50 per thousand in valuation, bills are expected to average $3,462.

The tax plan has been submitted to the Department of Revenue for approval, Harald Scheid, MassDevelopment’s assessor contractor, told the Devens Committee last week. Property values are based on 2004 figures, which was, he said, a hot year for Real Estate.

It is standard practice for assessors to base property taxes 2-year-old values, he said. Devens property is revalued every year although in some communities revaluation is a tri-annual process.

Devens property values increased about 9 percent between 2005 and 2006, Scheid said. Single-family residences grew in value proportionally more than condominiums. Commercial values have remained fairly stagnant for the past few years.

The recommended commercial/industrial/personal (CIP) shift — the difference between the residential and commercial/industrial tax rate — is the aforementioned $10.50 per thousand for residential and $16.81 for businesses.

The commercial and industrial property that is taxed at the ad valorem — market value — rate represents 67 percent of Devens’ value and pays 76 percent of the tax load. That includes the 11 new businesses that came in this year and the four that changed hands. All others, unless they are sold, pay taxes on a municipal fee basis.

The CIP shift can be changed year to year provided the percentage paid by industry doesn’t fall below 65 percent, said Sheid. Tax bills increase an average of 4 to 4.5 percent per year.

Richard Montuori, MassDevelopment senior vice president of operations, told the committee last week that the tax levy limit — the high-end cutoff — has been $420,000, but the actual tax levy has been $345,000. Increases allowed by Proposition Two-and-a-Half are added to the lower figure to avoid a large tax increase, he said.

Devens’ new levy limit is $1,415,588 and the actual tax levy is $1,349,652 because of the shift to the ad valorem method for the 15 businesses and residential increase in value. Firms engaged in manufacturing at Devens are exempt from personal property taxes.

Devens’ full and fair cash value is $91.6 million. Residential property is $29.98 million of that figure, commercial value is $14.6 million, and industrial property value is $49.96 million, according to MassDevelopment figures.

”What’s the increase, and what are we paying for?” asked Walnut Street resident Richard Leonhardt. “All this about 65 percent is fine, but what is it based on? (Tax rates) are supposed to be based on a (municipal) budget, not state revenue cost. I’ve asked 30 times for this information.”

Committee member Michael Boucher said Devens taxes are based on the “system-wide costs” of running Devens. Montuori detailed some of them.

MassDevelopment has an annual operating budget of $25 million. It pays $11 million in utility costs, $3 million for capital administration, $350,000 for recreation, $1.6 million for fire protection, $1.5 million for the Department of Public Works, $976,000 for police and $2.1 million for operations.

MassDevelopment receives approximately $4 to $4.5 million from the commonwealth each year as part of the $200 million authorized in Chapter 498 legislation, Montuori continued.

Devens has averaged $384,000 in Chapter 70 state “cherry sheet” receipts and has spent an average of $120,000 per year for Devens school choice students, including Parker Charter Essential High School, leaving a net of about $250,000 in aid money.

Victor Normand, MassDevelopment vice president community development, said $650,000 was spent last year and perhaps $900,000 will be spent this year despite the anticipated receipt of the same amount of state aid.

”We can understand the motivation for a tax increase, but we don’t have a town, we have an agency,” said committee member Thomas Kinch. “It’s difficult to rationalize what’s fair. We don’t have a town.

”This session is informative,” he said, “but I don’t see a close relationship between costs and taxes.”

An audience member said no one is likely to buy a house at Devens if prices are not lower than Harvard’s because there are no schools and no library, etc. As house prices draw more even with Harvard, she said, resale will become more difficult and not every resident has children.

”But you can compare some services,” said Boucher. “For example the (Department of Public Works) here is what you won’t get in Harvard.”

”We were compared to average tax bills in 37 towns and (the average) is about what we pay but those towns have 7,000 to 8,000 people and a huge school cost,” Leonhardt said.

Sheid compared the average Devens residential tax bill of $3,462 with Lunenburg’s $3,900 average, a $4,200 average in Lancaster and $8,100 in Bolton. The average value of Devens houses is $329,700.

”In Westford, the average property tax is close to $7,000, equally split between residential and commercial,” said developer Robert Walker. “The town is 90 percent residential. I’m not sure this (Devens tax) makes sense from a single-family viewpoint, (and) I’m not sure it’s not fair to residents. It seems reasonable.”

”If my taxes doubled and I knew what I pay for it’s OK with me,” Leonhardt said. “We don’t know what we pay for. If my taxes go to an open (MassDevelopment) budget, I’m already paying part of that with my (state) taxes so I am double-dipped.”

One financial model for a town of Devens indicates an $8 million municipal budget, said Sheid. Further valuation discussion will take place in December as is normal practice.

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