The increase prompted widespread acrimony across the city, and the tax rate proved to be the dominant political issue of the 2013 city election. Ultimately, public frustration with the rate helped propel Mayor Ken Gray to the city’s top elected office, edging out four-term incumbent Mayor Thatcher Kezer in a tightly contested race.
Gray, who has made reining in the city’s tax rate one of his top priorities as mayor, called Amesbury’s tax rate “outrageous” and pointed to the city’s falling property values as one of the main reasons for the latest jump.
“If you dig into the data, you’ll find that Amesbury was the only one of the five contiguous communities whose property values went down,” Gray said. “So even if all of the spending locally was the same, our rate would have gone up anyway because our values went down.”
Gray said increasing the city’s property values would be the most effective way to help bring down the tax rate, and despite the latest increase, there is reason for optimism that could finally happen in the near future.
Between 2012 and 2013, Amesbury lost $67 million in property values, heavily contributing to the sizable bump in the tax rate, but between this year and last year, the city lost only $15.9 million in value.
When the 2014 tax rate was announced in November, Kezer attributed the improved outlook to the strengthening of the housing market, and he said he expected the city should start to see its tax rate finally start to come down next year.
“This will be the last year of the rate going up because of the values, and the expectation is that next year the tax rate will go down because the values are rising so quickly,” Kezer said on Nov. 27, 2013. “That won’t be reflected for another year, because you have to use the prior year data.”