January 29, 2013
Last week we examined the fact that Chelmsford has some of the highest residential tax rates in the state, and certainly in the Merrimack Valley. In order to keep the message fairly short and readable, we didn’t get into commercial tax rates.
So let’s take another look at the table below (you can also reference it online here), paying particular attention to the third column showing commercial property tax rates. You will see that while Chelmsford has the highest residential property taxes in the table, the commercial tax rates are among the lowest, in the bottom third.
There are many reasons given for having the commercial tax rate be so low, many of them B.S. (Bad Sociology). One sophist rationale is that if taxes are higher, occupancy rates will sink. Well, Chelmsford has some of the lowest tax rates yet its vacancy rates are among the highest, if not the highest, in the region. The reasons for the high vacancy rates have little or nothing to do with taxes; they have everything to do with a self-defeating economic policy based on a build-at-all-costs mentality. The bad decision making is amplified by a fixation on short term “revenue enhancement” while ignoring spiraling long term costs.
In fact, if you look at Burlington in the table, you’ll see that it has a commercial tax rate that is nearly double that of Chelmsford. Yet Burlington does not suffer Chelmsford’s chronic high vacancy rates.
Before certain hotheads in Town Hall complain that Burlington is simply closer to Boston, take a look at Tewksbury, Wilmington, Andover. Their commercial tax rates are all 50% to 60% higher than Chelmsford. On the other hand, Westford is even lower than Chelmsford. Clearly, the commercial tax rate is not a major contributing factor in either causing or ameliorating high vacancy rates.
In essence, your high residential tax rates are financing unneeded commercial construction in a climate where there are tons of vacant spaces Homeowner taxes are being used to finance poor public policy, a classic case of empire building by public officials at the expense of the taxpayer.
Expect the usual personal attacks and bullying tactics from Town Hall in response to simply pointing this information out. The prolonged, coordinated and vitriolic opposition by vested interests to any challenge to the status quo underscores the need for change. Mark your calendar to VOTE for challengers on Tuesday, April 2.
Roland Van Liew