Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

September 26, 2011

The Taxman Cometh – Highlights of the Sept 26, 2011 City Council agenda

Filed under: City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 12:43 am

The Taxman Cometh – Highlights of the Sept 26, 2011 City Council agenda

In addition to the Executive Session delayed from last week by the Charter Right of Councillor Seidel, the top item tonight is the public hearing and the usual series of City Council votes that will ultimately lead to the setting of the residential and commercial tax rates for the current fiscal year, FY11-12. As Mr. Healy likes to remind the Council in his remarks, the City does not technically set these tax rates. They merely take the votes that ultimately lead to the state Department of Revenue setting the rates.

It’s unclear whether the Executive Session (relating to the now-settled Monteiro case and two other pending milkings of Mother Cambridge) will take place early in the meeting or after all other business is dispensed with. Ultimately, the primary purpose of the session is to help Councillor Kelley determine what particular negatives should appear in his campaign literature. Anyway, the important item is this one:

Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the votes necessary to seek the Massachusetts Department of Revenue approval for the tax rate for FY2012:

A. Authorize the use of Free Cash of $11,300,000 to reduce the FY12 tax rate;

B. Authorize $2,000,000 in overlay surplus/revenues to be used for reducing the FY12 tax levy;

C. Authorize $5,150,000 from the Debt Stabilization Fund to be used as a revenue source to the General Fund Budget;

D. Authorize $632,470 from the School Debt Stabilization Fund to be used as a revenue source to the General Fund Budget;

E. Classify property into five classes;

F. Adopt the minimum residential factor of 56.2602%;

G. Approve the maximum residential exemption factor of 30% for owner-occupied homes;

H. Vote to double the normal value of the statutory exemptions;

I. Vote the FY12 exemption of $285.00 allowed under MGL Chapter 59, Section 5, Clause 17D;

J. Vote the FY12 asset limits of $56,695 allowed under MGL Chapter 59, Section 5, Clause 17E;

K. Vote the FY12 income and asset limits allowed under MGL Chapter 59, Section 5, Clause 41D as follows: Income limits of $23,442 for single and $35,163 for married; and asset limits of $46,883 for single and $64,464for married;

L. Vote the income limit for deferral of real estate taxes by elderly persons as determined by the Commissioner of Revenue for the purposes of MGL Chapter 62, Section 6, subsection (k) for a single person ($51,000) and for married ($77,000);

M. Vote to accept Clause 56 of G.L. c. 59, Section 5, which allows members of the Massachusetts National Guard or military reservists who are on active duty to obtain a reduction of all or part of their real and personal property taxes for any fiscal year they are serving in a foreign country.

Text of the City Manager’s message. The tax districts are shown below.

FY12 Tax Districts

Key Facts:

1) The final property tax levy for FY12 will be $299,090,641, an increase of 5.33%.

2) Based on a property tax levy of $299.1 million, the FY12 residential tax rate will be $8.48 per thousand dollars of value, which is an increase of $0.32, or 3.9% from FY11. The commercial tax rate will be $20.76, which is an increase of $0.86, or 4.3% from FY11. [These are upon final approval by the Massachusetts Department of Revenue.] Both increases in the tax rate are less than FY11.

3) In FY12, commercial property owners will pay 65.4% of the property tax levy, the same share as in FY11. Consequently, residential property owners’ share of the FY12 tax levy is 34.6%, also the same as in FY11.

4) Approximately 63.9% of residential taxpayers will see a reduction, no increase or an increase of less than $100 in their FY12 tax bill. In addition, another 22.8% of residential taxpayers will see an increase between $100-$250. Therefore, a total of 86.7% of the residential taxpayers will see no increase or an increase of less than $250.

5) The Residential Exemption for the fiscal year will be $198,085 with a resulting tax savings of $1,679.76.

6) The changes in median assessed value and tax bill by property class are shown in the following table:

Change in the Median Value and Tax Bill by Property Class (includes Residential Exemption)
  FY11 Value FY11 Tax Bill FY12 Value FY12 Tax Bill Dollar Change Percent Change
Single Family $670,450 $3,870 $686,200 $4,139  $269  6.95%
Condominium $364,100 $1,370 $366,700 $1,430 $60  4.38% 
Two Family


$3,609 $644,600 $3,786  $177  4.90%
Three Family $721,500 $4,286 $728,900 $4,501 $215 5.02%

These figures are not uniform throughout the city. Values and taxes vary greatly by neighborhood.

  • The median value of a single-family home ranges from a high of $2,448,500 in Tax District R10 (Brattle St. area) to a low of $403,500 in District R1 (everything east of Windsor St.).
  • The median value of a condo ranges from a high of $1,269,700 in District R10 to a low of $318,750 in District R4 (Harvard edge of Mid-Cambridge).
  • The median value of a two-family home ranges from a high of $1,915,800 in District R10 to a low of $449,600 in District R1.
  • The median value of a three-family home ranges from a high of $2,940,300 in District R10 to a low of $530,000 in District R9 (Fresh Pond south toward Mt. Auburn Cemetery).

Manager’s Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a recommendation from the Planning Board not to adopt the Chestnut Hill Realty Zoning Petition.

This is the beast that refuses to die. The Planning Board panned it once, and now twice. The petition is all about shoehorning more apartments into below-grade, basement apartments so that the property owners (Chestnut Hill Realty) can make even more money. They first tried to call these "workforce housing" as if to suggest they were planning to house cooks and housekeepers in their overpriced new units. What makes the petition interesting is the fact that Chestnut Hill Realty has contributed handsomely to the political campaigns of several incumbent city councillors – typically giving maximum $500 donations from many principal players in the company and several members of their extended families. It’s always entertaining to watch the votes on these things.

Resolution #3. Resolution on the death of Noel Johnson.   Vice Mayor Davis, Councillor Simmons

I salute a fellow member of the Central Square Advisory Committee from Pine Street in the Area 4 neighborhood. Rest in peace, Noel.

Resolution #5. Encourage residents to attend Cambridgeport History Day on Oct 1, 2011.   Vice Mayor Davis

This is something everyone should attend if in town that day. I’m scheduled to co-lead a history-themed bicycle ride that day from Charlestown to Lowell. October 1 must be a Big Day for historical explorations.

Resolution #12. Congratulations to The Dance Complex on its 20th anniversary.   Councillor Simmons

And especially to my good friend Rozann Kraus who has helped to guide the Dance Complex from its inception 20 years ago to today.

Order #5. Seeking intervention from Federal officials in keeping the Inman Square and MIT Post Offices open.   Mayor Maher

This Order is co-sponsored by all 9 city councillors, yet I have yet to see any analysis that suggests that either of these post office branches is necessary or even well-utilized.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel and Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Co-Chairs of the Government Operations and Rules Committee for a public meeting held on Aug 29, 2011 to discuss policy development on community benefits as mitigation for zoning amendments and dedication of street corners.

Suffice to say that "community benefits" not directly related to burdens caused by new development (as a result of zoning changes) should never be characterized as "mitigation". A better term might be "extortion" or "pay to play". As I have said repeatedly (and apparently to the deaf ears of councillors determined to say yes to any and all new development resulting in more money to spread around to their favorite charities), this is a dangerous road to go down. The clear message is that if you are willing to pay to play, zoning for higher density is for sale. It is difficult to see what, if any, connection this has to rational planning for a better city. – RW


  1. “…zoning for higher density is for sale…”

    According to a letter sent to neighbors, David Aposhian is seeking permision to develop the Hampshire St KFC into 22 condo units. Let’s see how much he will pay.

    Comment by JChase — September 26, 2011 @ 4:11 pm

  2. Thank you for mentioning Cambridgeport History Day, a day to celebrate and explore neighborhood history. The center of events is Dana Park, where offerings will include a photo quiz, a mini-exhibit on the Civil War, and a history treasure hunt; a walking tour of Magazine Street departs from there at Noon. One of the day’s highlights is “If this house could talk . . .”– home- and business-owners create and display hand printed signs that highlight something interesting about that location, historical or personal. New this year are historical vignettes in which actors portray real people talking about real events. For more information, visit Enjoy!

    Comment by Kit Rawlins — September 26, 2011 @ 5:38 pm

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