AMESBURY — Expressing shock and disappointment over the latest round of property tax increases, members of the City Council gathered in a special meeting last night to discuss any possible way to offset the new tax rate, even if it meant resorting to drastic measures.
The council was unanimous in their disapproval of the tax rate, and the councilors were particularly incensed over the fact that the $1.11 increase over last year’s rate was more than five times the increase they were expecting.
Late last month, Mayor Thatcher Kezer informed the council that the tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year would be $20.24, up from last year’s rate of $19.13. The councilors noted that when they approved a budget increase back in June, their expectation was that tax rates would go up by 21 cents as a result. What they did not anticipate, they said, was a citywide decline in property values by $67 million.
“The rate is a mathematic equation,” said Councilor Bob Lavoie. “It’s like a see-saw: If the values go down, the rate can’t do anything but go up.”
The plan favored by the City Council would be to commit a portion of the city’s “free cash” funds to the city’s budget, driving down the tax rate to $19.99, but the problem is the only person who has the power to use the free cash funds in that way is Kezer, who is opposed to the idea.
Even if he were to have a change of heart, there wouldn’t be enough time to make the state deadline, council president Anne Ferguson said.
“The council itself is not able to say ‘let’s take this money and spend it,’” Ferguson said. “The mayor has to send a request to us, and by law we have to have two meetings of that request, and the second meeting has to be public. The public hearing requires at least seven days notice in the newspaper, and we can’t get that to happen.”