By Edith Morgan
I have to confess: I do not watch the Worcester City Council meetings every Tuesday and do not study the agenda religiously every week. I DO read the summary in the following day’s paper and often hear reports from people who were there. So I was especially interested in two items put on the agenda, one by councilor Gary Rose, the other by councilor Moe Bergman – both addressing some issues about the city’s property taxes.
As the city council has 45 days from their October 21st meeting to work on next year’s tax rate, these two items are timely. They were brought to my attention by Joan Crowell, of the AWARE coalition, who does so much great research and publicizing about all aspects of the city’s tax rate.
Moe Bergman submitted item 10i – “request City Manager request City Assessor report to the City council the tax impacts …if the city council were to adopt M.G. L. Chapter 59 sections 5C and 5i relative to residential and commercial tax exemptions at both a 5% and 10% value of the parcel exemption.”
I do not have the space here to go into details but, briefly, this exemption would enable owners of lower-valued homes to pay less $ and would have owners of higher priced homes to pay more $. A number of Massachusetts communities (including Boston, which has been doing this since 1983) are already making use of this state law. AWARE asks: “WHY NOT WORCESTER?” (for full details, go to their e-mail address, firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Here is a chance to grant some small measure of relief to owner-occupied homes, without harming the total city budget. The commercial tax exemption would apply to small businesses (with fewer than 10 employees) and valued at less than one million dollars. This law has been on the books since 1993. Why has not Worcester taken advantage of this opportunity?
On that same agenda, Gary Rosen submitted two orders: 11a and 11b –whereby he requested that the Worcester City Manager look into the ”advisability and the feasibility” of implementing the Senior Tax Work-Off program – a program that would enable qualified seniors who were approved to do volunteer work for the city, thereby earning a reduction in their property taxes. A number of Massachusetts are already doing this and have set up rules based on the state guidelines, spelled out in MGL Chapter 59-5K.
Gary’s item 11b reads: “ Request City Manager inform City Council on which, if any, tax exempt parcels of land in Worcester need to be reviewed to ensure that they do qualify for tax-exempt status.” This item asks that parcels of land purchased by non-profits for future use be checked to see if they are occupying the parcels for charitable purposes within the specified two-year period. (If they are not, the parcels become taxable, at least until they begin using them for charitable purposes.)
These items will be referred to city council subcommittees – so, watch for that discussion and voice your opinion.
A final word: Fiscal Year 2014 was supposed to be a Revaluation Year. Our next revaluation year is scheduled for FY2017. Keep your eyes open …