The on Tuesday night unanimously approved a property tax plan for fiscal year 2012 that raises Braintree's levy less than the 2.5 percent allowed by law, but still presents an average increase for homeowners of $134.70.
Under the plan, which includes a measure to shift the tax burden somewhat away from residents to businesses, the average residential tax bill will go up 3.87 percent. That number is higher than the 1.32 percent overall levy increase because home prices have gone up slightly in Braintree while commercial and industrial property values have taken a hit.
"We are one of the fortunate few," Mayor Joseph Sullivan said of the residential value increase, the first in several years. "It puts us, I think, in the right category."
A lower levy rate was selected by the Board of Assessors to help offset the expected increase for homeowners. If the town had adopted the full 2.5 percent levy hike, residential property owners would have seen an average increase closer to $200, Chief of Staff and Operations Peter Morin said.
The resulting loss of nearly $816,000 in revenue, Morin said, will be made up through supplemental aid from the state that Braintree received earlier this fall, new growth revenue over fiscal 2011 projections, higher motor excise tax revenue, additional licensing fees and other various sources.
Residents will also see savings by way of a tax classification shift that Braintree has adopted each year since 1986. During the past few years, the town has used the maximum 175 percent shift onto commercial properties from residential to reduce homeowners' tax bills. This year, for instance, residents would have paid $13.44 per thousand instead of the approved $10.45, or more than $1,168 in additional taxes. The rate for fiscal 2011 was $10.20.
Commercial and industrial rates will both go from $23.29 per thousand to $23.56, resulting in an average increase of $464.70 for commercial properties, and a decrease of more than $1,200 for industrial due to reduced valuations.
Councilors praised the mayor's financial team for putting together a package that limited the tax increase on residents – an especially notable accomplishment, they said, because unlike the vast majority of towns, Braintree did not take advantage of the 2.5 percent annual increase approved by Massachusetts voters in 1980.
"This is unprecedented," councilor Paul "Dan" Clifford said. "This is creative, out-of-the-box thinking."
The total levy, including residential, commercial industrial and other taxes, will raise approximately $70 million in revenue – the majority of Braintree's nearly $100 million operating budget.
Members of the Committee of Ways & Means ultimately voted for the plan after refusing to offer a positive or negative recommendation .
Committee member Leland Dingee said their 3-1 decision Monday was motivated by a desire to hear a full explanation of the tax increase by the mayor's office and to hear from councilors who have opposed tax hikes in the past.
"Property taxes are a bone of contention for most people," Dingee said. "Unfortunately, they exist."
Councilor Charles Kokoros likened the proposal to one a well-run business would put forward – avoiding large price increases while its customers are struggling economically.
"To me, this is spectacular," Kokoros said.
Councilors also voted favorably on a small business tax reduction for businesses with less than 10 employees and less than $1 million in value, and negatively on exemptions for open space and principal home ownership.