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No fuzzy math as Webster inches toward single property tax rate

By Rod Lee

Whether the discussion is with Chief Assessor Marc D. Becker or members of the business community, there is widespread agreement that the town of Webster is a welcoming place for enterprise thanks to a relatively low commercial tax rate of $16.40 per $1000 of assessed valuation—down significantly from a high of $28.35 in 2002.

This may become even more apparent during a tax-classification hearing in the selectmen’s meeting room of Town Hall on November 19th, when the strong likelihood is that Webster will finally join a majority of municipalities across the Commonwealth in adopting a single rate for commercial and residential properties, Mr. Becker said the afternoon of November 7th.

In asserting that “we have been working in that direction for twelve years,” Mr. Becker produced a sheet of paper, “Town of Webster Year Tax Rates,” that shows the gradual movement in Webster toward an equitable-for-both-sides levy that many cities and towns aspire to but have difficulty achieving. The city of Worcester being the most conspicuous example with its annual, often-contentious public consideration of the issue—come November.

Even lay people would probably concur, in looking at the numbers for Webster provided by Mr. Becker, that the Assessors office he has headed up since 2004 cannot be accused of anything resembling fuzzy math. Tax rates from 2002 forward are clearly broken down by category, as are the fiscal-year figures (Prop 2 ½, New Growth, Debt Exclusions, etc.).

In an email, the Webster-Dudley-Oxford Chamber of Commerce has encouraged its members to lobby Webster selectmen for a single rate. But regardless of how the deliberations turn out on November 19th, businesspersons like Scott Barry, executive manager of Long Subaru, think Webster is fair in its treatment of the commercial sector.

“It is manageable right now,” Mr. Barry said of Webster’s commercial tax rate, in commenting on the subject in the showroom of Long Subaru, which occupies approximately five acres on Sutton Rd. “You get into MetroWest, it’s prohibitive. Framingham has a big disparity, Marlborough too.”

Mr. Barry said “of course” Long Subaru would like to see a single rate in the town of Webster.

Stephen H. Charniak, owner of Charniak Insurance, an independent agency at 274 Main St. with more than fifty years in town to its credit, voices a similar sentiment.

“My philosophy, I am in favor of a level tax rate for everyone,” Mr. Charniak said. He described Webster’s commercial tax rate as “reasonable” and therefore not especially burdensome but noted that “it is more a question of equity. I don’t think [going to a single rate] will affect me by much but when you consider how important Mapfre is to the town of Webster it seems fair to seek a single tax rate” for commercial and residential.

Webster Five’s main office on Thompson Road in Webster. The bank, founded in March of 1868, is celebrating a 150th anniversary this year and pleased to be headquartered in a town that is “business friendly,” President/CEO Don Doyle says.

Donald F. Doyle of Webster Five Cents Savings Bank, 136 Thompson Rd., who has held the position of president and CEO since 2016, said the bank is very much aware of Webster’s striving toward a single rate. “I think it’s wonderful that the town of Webster is working toward creating a little more parity, to help the local business community,” Mr. Doyle said. “There is a direct impact in this effort on Webster Five, as a local business headquartered here in Webster. More importantly it creates a better environment for all local business.” In Webster Five’s case, Mr. Doyle said, it is particularly meaningful “in that we make loans to these businesses, for equipment, for improvements, for hiring.”

Webster is “very business-friendly,” Mr. Doyle said, and “it is reflected” in the town’s exertions to make the atmosphere “conducive” to success for businesses like Webster Five. 

Mr. Becker, who is ebullient, engaging and outgoing, relishes explaining to lay people exactly what is happening in Webster in terms of assessments and taxes. In attempting to illuminate for one such visitor to his office the “Shift” factor as it relates to the town’s tax rates, for instance, he said “the Shift is the number that creates the factor and the factor creates the tax levy.” The “Residential Difference,” he said by way of further elaboration, is “the difference of the residential rate (presently $15.39) to a single rate ($15.55). The commercial rate ($16.40) is 85 cents higher for the last year.”

Recapping past developments, Mr. Becker identified 2008 as “a key year” when the tax rates were down before building back up “and our Shift was almost max” and 2014-15 as “a big kick year” for expenses with “a new school and a new police station coming on line”—amounting to a 10.456 percent tax increase. The impact of the cost of the new library, which opened recently, will be less “because three-quarters of it is paid for,” he said.

Of the likelihood that Webster will embrace a single rate, Mr. Becker said “this may happen this year. I am very much looking forward to it. It’s less than a notch away. I’d call it half a notch.”

He also pointed out that going all the way back to the days of Samuel Slater (for whom a new restaurant at Indian Ranch is named) and continuing on through the largess of community-spirited citizens like Gerald and Marilyn Fels, Webster businesses have been known for their generosity in supporting local causes. This is a cornerstone of businesses’ connection to the town.

“Benevolence lives” in Webster, he said.

Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.