Haverhill City Council Keeps Tax Rate Proportions the Same to Help Encourage Business

Haverhill City Councilor Michael S. McGonagle. (WHAV News photograph by Jay Saulnier)

The average homeowner will pay about $187 more annually in property taxes as city councilors voted 5-2 to leave in place the current proportion of residential property taxes and those of businesses that pay a rate 65% higher.

While the proportion of taxes assigned between the groups did not change as a result of last night’s 5-2 vote, taxes will still increase, on average, for homeowners, and fall for businesses because the values of homes increased at a greater pace than for commercial and industrial and properties. Average commercial property tax bills will decrease by $133 and average industrial property will decrease by $284. Councilors who favored the plan said residents will fare better in the long run if the city does more to attract businesses that don’t contribute to school costs, for example

Former Haverhill resident and business owner Jeffrey G. Linehan, now of Boxford, said Haverhill’s residences now comprise 88% of Haverhill’s real estate tax base. On the other side, there are 73 business franchises represented in Haverhill along with the nation’s second largest bank.

“Do you think any one of those franchises will make a donation to the Santa Claus Parade for Haverhill? No. No. How about Bank of America? They’re not even a member of the Chamber. These industries come to Haverhill—yeah, they pay that 165—but they don’t contribute to the town like the small businesses do,” he said.

Councilors had the option, as some argued, to shift more of the tax burden to commercial, industrial and personal property that would cause all taxpayers to pay more. Mayor James J. Fiorentini urged councilors to raise the proportion that businesses pay to 70 or 75% more, arguing that staying with the current formula means “The people who can afford taxes the most will get a tax cut.” He said a higher rate for businesses would mean about the same percentage increase for both residential and commercial, industrial and personal property taxpayers. He said most Gateway Cities like Haverhill assess businesses the highest tax proportion.

Echoing the sentiment, Councilor Thomas J. Sullivan said residents are already paying too much thanks to a 47% residential value increase in last 10 years. He said “This is the night and this is the time” rate relief must begin.

Councilor Shaun P. Toohey, who owns both a business and a home in Haverhill, reminded his colleagues that homeowners are already facing tax increases in the future with approval of the Dr. Albert B. Consentino School debt exclusion and Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School and John Greenleaf Whittier School on the horizon.

“What I’ve heard constantly from seniors is that ‘Please continue to keep Haverhill affordable.’ I can’t tell you how many individuals that I spoke to that that was extremely important. I’m speaking to you, by the way, as a business owner in Haverhill. I own KC Carpets, Lafayette, Square if some of you who don’t know that,” he said.

Resident Jonathan Campbell summarized his concern over rising costs in personal terms. “In the last 10 years our property taxes, personally, have gone up 40%. I can attest our income hasn’t gone up 40% in that time period. We are now at an age where—I won’t say specifically how old we are—but the prospects of our income increasing, it’s not going to happen,” he said.

Allison Dolan-Wilson, chair of the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce, however, argued all facets must be considered—“live work and play.”

Council President Timothy J. Jordan said Haverhill residents still fare better on taxes than their counterparts in all surrounding towns. He said, “Let’s be honest about it. Only Lawrence is lower.”

Councilor Michael S. McGonagle motioned for keeping what has become known as a factor of 165% and received backing from Council Vice President John A Michitson who argued “A job is your best social program” and businesses also need support.

McGonagle and Michitson were joined by Jordan, Melinda E. Barrett and Melissa J. Lewandowski, while Sullivan and Toohey remained opposed. Councilors Joseph J. Bevilacqua, who sent in a letter urging a larger shift towards business, and Catherine P. Rogers were absent.

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