Next Thursday, May 5th is the Annual Town Meeting to which all registered voters are authorized to attend. As has been the case in the last few years, 150 people out of the registered 5365 voters usually attend, which equates to less than 2% of the voting population. These are the citizens who vote your tax rate.
It is at this meeting that citizens of the town either appropriate funding, or borrow, to cover the costs of running the town. As a very good friend of mine used to say, “This is the truest form of democracy where citizens can be heard”. It’s your opportunity to speak for and against funding requests and articles brought forward, thereby determining how your money is spent. This process reflects the people’s voice. The Board of Selectmen by law cannot and do not levy taxes, the citizens have this authority.
There are three primary processes as to how citizens vote to impact their taxes, by (1) general appropriation at town meeting, by (2) debt exclusion, or (3) through an override initiative.
(1) The general appropriation at town meeting is either a yes or no vote on funding any item brought forward.
(2) A debt exclusion, authorizes the town to borrow to fund a project or acquisition. The tax assessment for these projects is in place until that debt is paid off. The existing debt exclusions below are assessed per thousand dollars of evaluation:
Fire Station .27
Stephans Farm .11
Memorial School .47
Water Pump Station .11
Sewer Treatment Facility .12
Nipmuc High School .44
Miscoe School .09
Blackstone Valleys School .02
These totaled creates an assessment of $1.63 per thousand dollars of evaluation, meaning if your home is valued at $400,000 you have a $652.00 assessment on your taxes based on debt exclusions voted by the town’s citizens.
(3) An override occurs when voters through a town meeting and ballot question, (both are required to pass) vote to permanently override the existing tax rate by a set amount. In last year’s override the voters voted $1,391,632.00 with an assessment of $1.39 per thousand dollars of evaluation, meaning if your home is assessed at $400,000, your taxes increase by $556.00.
Exceptions to these actions are town contracts, such as labor union contracts and the school funding that once assessed cannot be rescinded.
As you can see the power is in the hands of the citizens to determine what they will pay in taxes. It is not a board or commission that creates the tax rate, only the citizens can. Your attendance at the Town Meeting gives you the ability to affect how your dollars are spent and the end result, your tax assessment.