So before the budget discussions begin, it’s important that both sides understand that there is a difference between overspending on operations and investing in the city’s future.
First, here are some facts. With nearly every community in the state reporting, Amesbury’s tax rate of $20.24 ranks as the seventh highest in the state and the highest in Essex County.
The city has released some data regarding where Amesbury stands, taxwise, in the county. Amesbury’s average single-family tax bill of $5,984 ranks No. 14 out of 34 Essex County communities and is right near the county average of $5,935. The city’s average single-family tax increase of $129 was No. 23 in Essex County and just below the county average. Only three communities – Lynn, Hamilton and Wenham – actually saw their average single-family tax bills go down.
Amesbury’s tax rate has also largely followed market trends. Between 2001 and 2007, the city’s tax rate dropped every year from $18.28 down to $13.16, fueled mostly by enormous increases in property values thanks to the national housing boom. To put it in perspective, the city gained $700 million in total property values during the first seven years of the new millennium, and the average property more than doubled in value.
But since the housing bubble burst in 2008, Amesbury has seen a steady decline in property values, and since the tax rate is determined by taking the total dollars taxed and dividing it by the city’s total property values, those declines in home values has led to a corresponding increase in the tax rate.
Now, although property values appear to be the primary driver of Amesbury’s tax rate, the city doesn’t get a free pass on spending either.
In 2010, the city commissioned a study to determine how much Amesbury was spending relative to other communities in the region. The study was conducted by the Ad Hoc Citizen Advisory Committee, and upon release it reported that Amesbury’s fire, public works and police departments spent considerably more than other communities of similar size.