, Newburyport, MA

March 28, 2013

Tax relief planned for owners of destroyed homes on Plum Island


---- — NEWBURY — Recent storms have cost Plum Island six homes and more than that are damaged, but town officials are saying that homeowners can rebuild on oceanfront lots if they choose.

And in a new development, Tracy Blais, town administrator, said she will be drafting a measure aimed at giving property-tax relief to those whose homes have been destroyed or damaged.

Plum Island waterfront homes pay a substantial share of the town’s property taxes. The six homes that were destroyed were assessed at $4.45 million in total, which amounts to $50,730 in property taxes.

Local and state officials met Tuesday night to discuss how Plum Island can rebuild after winter devastation and also how it can protect itself in the future. Building inspector Sam Joslin said that the town will accept permits for building new structures or improving old ones.

“Homeowners should think about building on pilings or relocating the house to a different part of the property if it is large enough,” said Joslin.

“Town officials will work with (Plum Island) homeowners, and help find out what can be done.”

Joslin stated that about 30 houses had been under duress after the final of four winter storms surged onto the beach.

Six houses are gone. Six more are in the process of being elevated. About seven more “will be fairly easy to elevate or move to another part of the property.”

Joslin said that about 11 houses will have problems, because their parcel is too small for relocation or the structure is too unstable to elevate.

Town officials say that blue, the beachfront hotel, might be difficult to elevate because it is old and more than 100 feet wide.

Local officials say that the town will able to weather the storm financially even if fewer tax payments are collected as a result of lost or severely damaged properties.

Town officials this spring will come up with a budget figure to fund town and school expenses. Property tax will be levied with the intent of reaching the final budget figure.

Blais said, “I am going to draft a special measure that would assist homeowners with damaged properties” that would provide for a smaller tax payment.

Some observers had questioned whether the town would be hobbled if property-tax collections were reduced, but selectmen Chairman Joe Story said that events on Plum Island won’t damage town finances.

“It’s a relatively small number of houses,” said Story. He added that he did not feel the state Department of Environmental Protection would have objections to homeowners putting up new or improved houses on land that they own.

Community leaders estimate that almost all damaged houses carried insurance, and thus it appears that numerous homeowners will be able to rebuild.

Joslin — as well as representatives from the state DEP — indicated that those who apply for building permits will be able to obtain them if they meet the appropriate criteria.

Joslin stressed that a key component of plans for new oceanside houses is “elevation,” constructing or moving homes onto steel pilings that are driven deep into the sand.