Oak Bluffs Tax Bills Going Up in Wake of Reassessments

By CHRIS BURRELL

A high-priced real estate market coupled with the payback on capital spending projects in Oak Bluffs is fueling tax increases that could hit some taxpayers hard when they open their bills next month.

In some cases, property taxes in Oak Bluffs will increase by as much as 36 per cent over last year.

Oak Bluffs selectmen quietly approved the new tax rate Tuesday night at their regular meeting in town hall, but assessor Diane Wilson wasn't pulling any punches when she delivered the news: "Everybody's taxes are going up."

After a summer of field work revaluing properties in town and keeping a close watch on real estate transactions, assessments overall went up about 18 per cent.

But the tax rate barely budged downward, dropping just two per cent, from $6.98 to $6.83 per $1,000 of valuation.

"Values are increasing so rapidly. While sales have slowed, prices haven't dropped," said Ms. Wilson. "Everyone's tax bill is going to increase."

The sting will be felt in different degrees across town. In a sampling of eight properties - ranging from modest ranch houses to waterfront homes - that new formula will translate into tax hikes of 12 to 36 per cent.

Ms. Wilson offered selectmen this example: The owner of the average house in Oak Bluffs, now valued at $472,500, can expect to pay an additional $436 in taxes this year compared to last year, a 15 per cent jump.

Homeowners in the Camp Ground can also expect significantly higher taxes this year. A house in Trinity Park valued last year at $182,100 is now listed on the assessors' book at $253,900. Do the math to figure out the tax bill, and that's a 36 per cent increase, or $450 more than last year.

Owners of a home on East Chop will be paying an $11,631 tax bill this year, 28 per cent higher than last year. Assessed value of that house climbed from just under $1.3 million to $1.7 million.

"A revaluation has taken place, and it's a complicated process," selectmen chairman Richard Combra told the Gazette.

"The average increase is $400, but that's just the average. My expectation is that people in Farm Neck and on East Chop [are] going to see a significant increase," he added. "But people living in their homes for many years, someone on Vineyard avenue, for example, is not going to see a $400 increase."

Indeed, the owners of ranch houses on Meshacket Way and County Road will see taxes go up only $200 this year, but that is still a 12 per cent increase over last year.

What's confusing is that voters didn't approve any override of Proposition 2 1/2 this year. The annual budget was level-funded, pointed out town administrator Casey Sharpe.

"We're not seeing a major increase in the town budget," she said.

But the total tax levy, said Ms. Wilson, rose by more than 15 per cent, from $16.5 million to more than $18 million.

While Oak Bluffs doesn't receive much in the way of state aid, those contributions are also being cut, leaving taxpayers to shoulder more of the cost to pay for town services - from teachers and police salaries to trash collection and snow plowing.

The main reason for the tax increase, said town leaders, is that voters have backed capital spending over the last 10 years, including a downtown sewer system, a new school, an addition at the regional high school and a new public library. Those debts are excluded from the limits of Proposition 2 1/2.

Debt service this year on seven projects totals just under $1.9 million. That's a 20 per cent increase over last year's debt total which stood at roughly $1.5 million, only a 10 per cent increase from the previous year when the annual debt payment was $1,395, 291.

But such debt exclusions are considered far better than general overrides since they don't permanently raise the tax rate. Ms. Sharpe called the debt exclusion practice a "sign of good management."

She also pointed out that other towns on the Island and the state are dealing with the same issues, trying to control the operating budget while also funding capital projects.

Tisbury selectmen approved a new tax rate this week also, but since there was no revaluation, taxpayers will not see a marked increase. Edgartown taxpayers, however, could be facing a similar scenario of higher valuations and only a slightly lower tax rate.

Ms. Wilson admitted that taxpayers in Oak Bluffs won't be happy to see their new bills next month. She added that the town has tried to help elderly taxpayers apply for abatements and to participate in a tax work-off program that could shave as much as $750 off their annual bill. "We've done what we can to help the seniors," she said.

But she added that the assessors have worked hard to keep track of home improvements and current market real estate value, saying "We want to make sure everybody is paying their fair share."