Abatement

Benjamin Franklin once famously said, “There is nothing certain in life but death and taxes.” And this is most certainly true for real estate taxes in Massachusetts which continue to rise despite declining home values.

As reported in the Boston Globe today:

Despite dropping home values, Massachusetts property tax bills continued to rise last year. Revenue-hungry cities and towns, looking for money to pay for new buildings and to maintain services, have continued to push up local taxes, often asking voters to approve property tax overrides even as real estate values drop further.

The double whammy of lower home values and higher taxes — a phenomenon that has hit Massachusetts homeowners for several years — frustrates taxpayers as they endure the rocky economy.

Massachusetts home values, after peaking in 2007, have dropped about 4.6% last year to an average of $373,702. Yet the average tax bill on a single-family home in fiscal 2010 increased about $140, a 3.3 % increase, according to figures released this month by the state Department of Revenue. The average tax bill for a single-family home was $4,390.

Taxpayers want to know why, and many have had enough. Part of the problem is that assessed values, which municipal assessors use to calculate real estate taxes, lag behind “true” market value. Rick Henderson, the assistant director of assessing in Dedham, points out that assessed values for fiscal 2010 are based on a home’s worth on Jan. 1, 2009, which was determined by home sales in 2008 in that community. A home’s actual value — different from its assessed value — might have declined significantly over the last two years, he said.

Taxpayers can file for an abatement to petition for a lower assessed value. Abatements are due within 30 days of the mailing of the tax bill, and are subject to very strict deadlines, so consult an experienced real estate attorney about an abatement.

The other problem is that local boards of assessors have consistently increased the municipal tax rates to bridge the shortfall in expected collections. For example, in Sudbury, the local assessors raised the residential tax rate from $14.27 in 2008, to $15.29 in 2009, to $16.08 in 2010. During the same period, average home assessed values dropped $33,000, so property taxes continued to rise. Proposition 2 1/2 does not limit the ability of assessors to increase tax rates; it only limits the aggregate tax levy brought in by a town. With the passage of local overrides of Prop 2 1/2, tax bills have increased dramatically in the last 10 years. In Sudbury, the average tax bill in 2000 was nearly $6,000. In 2010, it is $10,460–a 74% increase in 10 years time, or an average of 7.4% per year.

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