Why are Acton's property taxes so high? (part 3)

Sun, 2014-05-11

Here is part 3 of our series examining what our local leaders think about Acton's high property taxes.

Part One (Introduction): http://www.actonforum.com/blogs/allenn/acton-forum-launch-debate-propert...

Part Two (Clint Seward): http://www.actonforum.com/story/why-are-actons-property-taxes-so-high-pa...

Janet Adachi

Janet Adachi has served this past year as the Chair of the Selectmen. She was elected in 2010. Previously, she volunteered for several years on the Conservation Commission and then on the Community Preservation Committee (CPC). She has a law degree from Boston College, according to her campaign website.

AF: Why are Acton's property taxes so high?

Adachi: First, a disclaimer: In responding to an invitation to comment here, I am expressing my personal viewpoint, and am not speaking as a public official or representative of any Town board.

My response to the Acton Forum question--"Why are Acton's taxes so high?"—consists mostly of another question, or actually several questions. The initial Forum question encompasses an assumption that I am not prepared to accept or reject in the absence of more information. The posed question also begs more fundamental questions, such as:

* Are Acton's taxes "so high"?

* What is meant by "Acton's taxes"? The residential property tax rate? The total tax bill for a given residential property of particular assessed value? The average tax bill? The median tax bill?

* What is meant by "high"? "High" relative to what? The residential tax rates, individual tax bills, average tax bills or median tax bills in other Massachusetts communities?

* What level of taxes would be not "so high"? Which communities fall into the not "so high" category and offer municipal and educational services comparable to Acton's?

* What value do Acton residential taxpayers ascribe to the municipal and educational services that they receive in exchange for the property taxes they pay? Do they think they are receiving fair value? Overpaying? Getting a bargain?

* If Acton residential taxpayers think their property tax bills are "so high" or think they are overpaying for the services they receive, what services would they be willing to forgo in exchange for not "so high" property tax bills? Or do they believe that they should be able to receive the same level of services but pay not "so high" property taxes?

Discussion of the Forum topic should not be in a vacuum, bereft of the context that answers to more basic questions, such as the ones above, might provide. Resident taxpayers should understand that the property taxes they pay are for the high-quality municipal and educational services that they expect and receive. Furthermore, the bulk of the property taxes come from residents, given that the Town's business-tax base is small. And the vast majority of property taxes and other revenues go to mandatory public education. Some people complain about the current funding model: Better minds than mine can tackle that issue. In the meantime, the current model is the one that affluent communities like Acton have followed for decades.

Municipal and school operations can be complicated and tedious to follow at times, but a discussion of residential property taxes should not start and end with whether taxes are "so high." The more that residents are willing to look thoughtfully beyond simplistic questions and conclusions, the better for the Town as a whole. Thank you.

Part 4 (Peter Ashton): http://www.actonforum.com/story/why-are-actons-property-taxes-so-high-pa...

Part Five (Charlie Kadlec): http://www.actonforum.com/story/why-are-actons-property-taxes-so-high-pa...

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Once again a politician is asked a simple question and refuses to answer it because it is too vague while relying upon vagueness to support her questions ("...high quality (services)...). I would appreciate a politician when asked why "taxes" are so high to respond, the costs of the services requested by the taxpayers and dictated by the state and federal governments dictate the tax rate. Simple answer to a simple question. If specific questions are asked then the answers should be specific.

Ms. Adachi's response to the simple question suggests the question is foolish or being asked to respond to it is somehow beneath her. Sorry Ms. Adachi, the question is valid and anyone who is not a lawyer or a politician would at least make an attempt at an answer. Property taxes in Acton are high and Ms. Adachi knows they are high. I am not comparing Acton with any other city or town in Massachusetts. I am simply looking at my property tax bill.