The Select Board has formally adopted a 10% residential tax exemption after hearing passionate appeals from residents for and against the move.
The Board voted in August to institute the exemption to shift the tax burden toward more expensive homes as Concord shoulders major spending programs, chief among them a new middle school with a price tag of more than $100 million.
Assessor Meredith Stone announced that under the residential exemption program, the average value of a Concord home is calculated at slightly less than $1.43 million.
Ten percent of that average is just under $143,000. That’s the amount that will be taken off the assessed value of every home that qualifies for the new exemption before the property is taxed.
There are about 6,000 residential properties in Concord; 4,000 potentially qualify for the exemption.
The new residential tax rate under the exemption for fiscal year 2024 will be approximately $13.13 per $1,000 of assessed valuation (the value of the home for tax purposes, not on the open market), Stone said. The town’s current residential rate is $12.96 per $1,000.
The rate for commercial, industrial and personal property will be about $12.24 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.
As far as instituting the tax break goes, “The real question is if we believe in having any kind of economic diversity in this town and we want to maintain the ability for many older people — people who’ve lived in this town for many years, who are part of the heritage of this town,” said Chair Henry Dane.
While there may be some exceptions, he said, “it really doesn’t make sense to say that somebody who lives in a $3 or $4 million home can’t afford to pay more in taxes than a person who lives in a home that’s worth $500,000 or $600,000 or $700,000.”
Before the Board voted to seal the residential exemption deal, they heard from a string of speakers — appearing both in person and virtually — who argued for and against the break.
Proponents largely argued that lower-income residents who have paid their share to the support and betterment of the town are being edged out of Concord. Opponents said the process seemed rushed and that more prosperous residents were being unfairly asked to carry the weight of the town’s spending.
Southfield Road resident Joe Laurin, who’s lived in Concord for about 14 years, said he wasn’t sure if he would personally benefit from the tax break based on the value of his home, but called the exemption “a bad policy for us to adopt.”
Laurin urged the board to hit pause on the exemption for a more thorough examination of its effects. “If this passes and we haven’t done that deep dive, everybody here sitting at that [Select Board] table is going to have to answer some tough questions,” he said.
He, like others, also said Town Meeting approved the bond for the new middle school with the understanding that the burden of paying the debt would be shared evenly.
Laurin added that “just because someone lives in a $2 million house doesn’t mean they’re cash rich. A lot of that has just been appreciation of the property — not necessarily meaning that their income has kept pace with that.”
Mari Weinberg, a 44-year Concord resident in favor of the exemption, framed the debate as a battle for “the soul” of the town. She said when she moved to Concord, “there were people of moderate incomes and all different incomes. I have watched in the last 20 years, 15 years, a total disappearance of that.”
Now, Weinberg said, many older people are hard-pressed to stay in a place where the families of some have lived for generations: “We’re here. You don’t see us, but we’re here,” she said.
“We love where we live, and we want to stay here. So I’m talking for all the people who couldn’t come tonight… We’re out there. We’re quiet, [but] we mean something. And you’re going to miss us.”
Board members also expressed worry about pumping the brakes after more than 3,000 homeowners had already applied for the exemption. November 1 was the early deadline to apply. Applications for the exemption will be accepted through the Assessing Division through April 1, 2024.
That said, “I am willing to entertain the thought of having a task force or a group of people [to] take a deeper dive into this, because it’s complicated,” Board member Mary Hartman said. That group could come back to the Board with findings “next year, when we will revisit this and we will make another decision” — including as to whether 10% is the right level for the exemption, which can by law go up to 35%.
The Board ultimately voted 5-0 to formally adopt the 10% exemption.