East Longmeadow Town Council sets tax classification, discusses water pipe requirement

Nov. 22, 2022 | Sarah Heinonen

EAST LONGMEADOW – The tax classification was set for the fiscal year 2024 (FY24) at the East Longmeadow Town Council’s Nov. 10 meeting. Board of Assessors Chair Martin J. Grudgen and Principal Assessor Diane Bishop presented the tax options to the council.

Grudgen began by telling the council that property values had increased by about 10 percent in 2021, the latest year for which they have data. Property values are determined each year by sales data, and every five years by a more comprehensive evaluation of building conditions, age and several other factors. Grudgen said property values are “at an all-time high,” with the average home in East Longmeadow valued at $339,800.

“Our town is still growing,” Bishop said. “People are taking pride in their homes. They’re having constant improvements [done] to their homes,” as well as new construction.

Bishop explained that the council was being asked to vote on a tax classification – single, split or with exemptions – and not the tax rate. The tax rate is set based on a mathematical formula. FY23’s tax levy was $47.81 million, added to which is the maximum legal levy increase of 2.5 percent, or $1.19 million. Added to that number is the town’s new growth – $630,358 in town-wide property value increases – and $151,936 in debt exclusions from previously approved library construction and 12 school modular buildings. That brings the total levy for FY24 to $49.78 million.

“We never want to spend up to that amount,” Bishop noted. She said the assessors are hoping that once the town’s needs are budgeted for, there will be $2.7 million in excess levy capacity. With that, the projection for the FY24 tax rate is $19.20 per $1,000 in property value. This is down by $1.09 per $1,000 from the current fiscal year.

Bishop went on to explain that a single tax rate would result in residential property owners and owners of commercial, industrial and personal (CIP) property paying the same rate. Personal property includes items such as merchandise, furniture, machinery, tools, animals and equipment.

A split tax rate would shift the tax burden to CIP property owners and lessen the bills for residential property owners. Under law, municipalities can shift the tax burden to CIP properties by up to 50 percent.

In East Longmeadow’s case, a 50 percent shift would lower the tax rate to $17.35 per $1,000 on residential property, saving homeowners an average of $629 throughout the year. Meanwhile, CIP owners would pay $28.71 per $1,000, or $7,875 more over the year. Because CIP property accounts for just 16 percent of the tax base, Bishop said a few properties would shoulder the tax burden.

There are two other options that the council had to consider before setting the classification. A residential exemption would shift the tax burden away from owner-occupied properties and toward rental properties. Only 16 municipalities out of the state’s 351 use this exemption, and they generally have a high percentage of rental properties, which East Longmeadow does not.

The other exemption shifts the tax burden away from commercial and industrial properties worth less than $1 million and does not contain businesses with more than 10 employees. Bishop clarified that the exemption benefits the property owner, not the business owners that rent or lease space there. Only 14 communities use this exemption. A total of 57 properties in town “might” qualify for the lower tax rate, Bishop said, but the state’s list is not often not up to date.

With all the information considered, the council voted unanimously to adopt a single tax rate with no exemptions.

Lead and Copper Rule

Town Manager Mary McNally said an “unfunded mandate” from the state will require the water department to investigate water lines between the street and older homes to determine whether they contain lead or copper. She said 2,700 homes could be affected and that the town will be responsible for the replacement of the lines “if suspect material is found.”

However, Councilor Michael Kane noted that, generally speaking, homeowners own the utility lines running from the curb to the home, while the town is responsible for the cost of the lines past the curb. “I’m not sure where the financial burden totally falls,” Kane said. Councilor Connor O’Shea said he had recently become aware of $115 million for a Clean Water Trust Fund, some of which would be available for the “Lead and Copper Rule.” More investigation would be done, McNally said.

Lesser update

Outgoing state Sen. Eric Lesser met with the Town Council to update them on projects that affect the town. He said that he is in the process of preparing his successor state Sen.-elect Jacob Oliveira for the job.

Lesser told the council that a bill filed by state Rep. Brian Ashe and state Sen. Anne Gobi, and signed onto by Lesser, would have implemented the recommendations of the Special Commission to Study the Financial and Economic Impacts of Crumbling Concrete Foundations due to the Presence of Pyrrhotite. These recommendations included required testing of quarries for pyrrhotite, among other provisions. It was passed by the legislature but vetoed by outgoing Gov. Charlie Baker.

“That remains a big piece of unfinished work,” Lesser said and assured the council that the bill would be reintroduced in the next session, when Gov.-elect Maura Healey is in office.

Councilor Connor O’Shea asked Lesser about the status of East-West Rail, a rail line that would connect Boston to Pittsfield, with stops in Worcester, Palmer and Springfield. Lesser said the project had received funding from the federal infrastructure package passed earlier this year. He explained the two most immediate steps are creating a structure for how the funding is administered and selecting or creating an entity to run the rail service. That entity may be Amtrak, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation or a new, dedicated rail authority. Both those issues are scheduled to be ironed out by March 2023, he said.

“Housing is the most urgent priority from a policy perspective in terms of how the ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funding is being spent,” Lesser said. “We obviously have a housing crisis in the state and housing prices are skyrocketing.” When McNally mentioned the town’s desire to purchase a brownfields property at 70 Maple St., Lesser said, “My advice would be that if the proposal is grounded in housing … it will make the project very competitive,” for funding.

Lesser thanked the council for allowing him to serve as a legislator for the town for eight years. He called it “fun” and “the greatest professional honor of my life.” Town Council President Ralph Page said he appreciated the time Lesser spent attending to issues that affected East Longmeadow and McNally thanked Lesser for being helpful throughout the years.

Other topics

The East Longmeadow Police Department (ELPD)’s Steven Manning was promoted from detective sergeant to the first police lieutenant in the town’s history. He is now second in command at ELPD behind Chief Mark Williams.

McNally said East Longmeadow Public Schools Superintendent Gordon Smith was going to arrange a meeting between McNally’s office and members of the School Committee to discuss the town’s desire to redesignate 19 acres of Heritage Park from school use to park. The change would allow East Longmeadow to apply for grant funding to help with the cost of renovating the 46-acre park. Some School Committee members have expressed hesitancy to relinquish the land until they receive more information.

The Eastern Hampden County Veteran’s District, of which East Longmeadow is a member, is still seeking a veteran service officer. The district includes the towns of East Longmeadow, Hampden and Wales.

Finally, a sidewalk project along about 4,500 feet of Parker Street was completed over a three-week span in late October and early November.

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