Boxborough a state leader in low property tax increases

Boxborough is second among Eastern Massachusetts cities and towns with the lowest property-tax increase in the last two years, and will move to number one next year, according to an analysis of average-single-family (ASF) property tax bills done by Acton Forum, based on data available on the state's Dept. of Revenue website.

Thanks to a declining school enrollment and regionalization of schools with Acton, Boxborough has had a two-year, ASF-property-tax decrease of -0.78%, which ranks just behind the town of Wayland (-1.33%) in Eastern MA, and ranks ninth in the state for lowest property tax increase. Almost all other towns in the top 16 whose property taxes declined over the last two years are in Western Massachusetts. See the spreadsheet here:

While 2015 data is not available for all cities and towns, Acton Forum researched Wayland's, Boxborough's, and Wenham's (6th, 9th, and 23rd lowest increases) expected ASF property tax bill in 2015. These three towns had the highest ASF property tax bills (approx. $9,000 or more) in the top 50 towns on our list. Wayland's bill is expected to increase almost 10% next year, Wenham's is scheduled to go up 1.27%, while Boxborough is looking at a third-year decrease of -1.57%. This would make Boxborough the only town in Eastern Massachusetts and likely the only town in the Commonwealth with three years of decreasing property taxes from 2013-2015.

Next year's Boxborough decrease is almost wholly due to the decision by Acton's Town Meeting to fully regionalize the school system and to give Boxborough almost all of the net savings. Boxborough's 2015 school assessment is declining while Acton's increased, in spite of a nearly $1 million annual payment from Boxborough to Acton which was meant to mitigate this shift. Boxborough's school assessment for FY2015 was calculated at approximately 8% lower than the prior year's cost while Acton's was approximately 4% higher.

In three to five years, and beyond, Boxborough's annual payment to Acton will decrease significantly which will result in even larger savings for Boxborough. The payments stop entirely in seven years, which is the expected time when the student enrollment shift will be most favorable to Boxborough, resulting in further savings to future Boxborough taxpayers.

Out of 339 cities and towns whose data was available on the Dept. of Revenue website, only two towns had declining ASF property tax bills in both 2013 and 2014, Boxborough and Savoy. We were curious if Savoy's would match Boxborough with a tax decrease next year.

Savoy is a town in the Berkshires with a 2010 population of 692. We tried to see what the projected 2015 ASF tax bill would be in Savoy but their town's website had been hacked and is now in Chinese, and their tax collector only works a few hours per week and was unavailable, but the clerk didn't think they would have an estimate of the 2015 tax bills until October. But if Savoy's property taxes increase in 2015, then Boxborough would be the only town in the state with a decreasing ASF property tax bill for the three years (2013-2015).

In contrast, Acton's property taxes have gone up an average of 3.09% per year over the past two years, with next year's ASF property tax bill expected to increase 3.45%, according to the annual Town Meeting warrant.

Boxborough's Town Meeting warrant reported an expected tax decrease next year of $140, a 1.57% decrease from this year. In 2012, Acton and Boxborough had relatively close ASF property tax bills, about $220 apart. Since then, Acton's have been rising while Boxborough's have been falling.

For our recent article on the divergence of the Acton and Boxborough property tax rates, see "A Tale of Two Towns":

This previous article includes a projection of Acton's and Boxborough's ASF property tax bills through 2022. In 2008, both town's ASF property tax bills were nearly equal at about $8,000. Since then, Boxborough's have risen to $8,938 (2014) while Acton's have gone to $9,832 (2014). This means that Acton's increase has been twice as fast as Boxborough's over the last six years.

Even if both town's property taxes increase in a few years, Boxborough's savings will be "locked in" at this lower rate for years or decades to come. We believe this will also affect home prices since the towns share a fully regionalized school system.

The attached spreadsheet is ranked in order of the lowest average property tax increase over the past two years. It shows Boxborough in yellow at Row 11, with the ninth lowest increase (negative 0.78%, column K). Acton is at Row 159 in red. Acton's property taxes have increased an average of 3% per year while Boxborough's have gone down almost 1% per year.

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