ATTLEBORO – Property tax increases usually come once a year, right after Christmas.
This year there's an extra, and it's coming just before Independence Day.
A mid-year tax increase will hit property owners on July 1 because of payments due for loans taken to build the city’s new $260 million high school.
Chief Assessor Stan Nacewicz said the tax rate for homeowners will shoot up by 81 cents, from $14.16 per $1,000 of value to $14.97, while the commercial rate will increase $1.09, from $20.22 per $1,000 of value to $21.31.
On a home assessed at $320,000, the average for a single-family home in the city, the increase will add $260 to the annual bill, or $65 a quarter.
Nacewicz said the board of assessors made the move to disperse payments over four quarters rather than have property owners have to pay the increase over the last two quarters of fiscal year 2020 in January and April of next year.
“We’re trying to level it out over four quarters so they don’t get hit with a big bump,” he said.
Out of the 81-cent increase on the residential side, about 43 cents goes to pay debt associated with borrowing for the school.
The other 38 cents is for the annual increase allowed under tax-limiting law Proposition 2 1/2 due to be assessed in January of 2020.
He said that's also being assessed early to lessen the impact.
Mayor Paul Heroux is behind the move.
The total amount paid won't go down, but spreading it over the four quarters of fiscal year 2020 softens the blow, the mayor said.
“We pay a bit earlier, but it makes it more manageable,” Heroux said in an email to The Sun Chronicle. “And that is the goal of the action my board of assessors took; we want to make paying taxes more manageable. “
Nacewicz said "leveling" tax bills is not a common practice, but is allowed by the state in circumstances like this.
Typically, the city establishes a tax split between commercial and residential payers in November which the assessor then translates into a tax rate for the new calendar year starting in January. This year, the July increase is extra, but is based on the 1.33 tax split established by the council last year.
The 1.33 split means commercial property owners pay at a rate 33 percent higher than if there was a single rate.
Nacewicz said the increase will be bigger in FY 2021 because borrowing will increase by four times.
Last year, city officials predicted that the greatest impact on taxpayers will occur in fiscal year 2021. After that, tax increases, specifically for the school, level off and gradually diminish.
So far, the preliminary forecasts are on target, Nacewicz said.
Meanwhile, Heroux said it's not the only action the city has taken to make tax bills more manageable.
He noted that at his urging the city decided to pay the school bill over 30 years rather than 20 years, which reduces the immediate impact on taxpayers.
However, it increases payments overall because of the longer payback time.
The sale of three defunct city schools -- the old high school on County Street as well as Finberg and Briggs Corner schools -- are expected to bring in “millions of dollars” which will also reduce the amount of borrowing, he said.
In addition, there are measures before the council that would assist senior citizens on fixed incomes.
Heroux said he and councilors are looking at other ways to help.
"Some council members and I are looking into different abatement programs for different populations of citizens," he said.