Proposed Residential Exemption Qualification Project

Each year, generally in late November, the assessing staff meets with the Board of Selectmen to assist with the technical details in setting the tax rate.  At this point, property values have been established for the fiscal year and approved by the Department of Revenue.  The tax levy (amount being raised by property taxes) is known.  The last steps in the process are taken at this "classification hearing" where the selectmen decide how to allocate the tax burden among the various classes of taxpayer as defined by Massachusetts General Law.

One of the decisions town selectmen face across the Commonwealth is whether to grant an exemption to those property owners who call their home their primary residence.  Oak Bluffs has never granted this "residential exemption", but following several administratively difficult implementations of the exemption off-island, and a notable increase in interest locally for discussing an exemption in depth, we in the assessing department felt it was important to highlight the staffing and time requirements of potential implementation.

The declaration of a residential exemption can be over in minutes, but the upcoming work for the assessing staff will be monumental.  More importantly, assessors must immediately identify how many exemptions they will grant in order to finish setting the tax rate with the Department of Revenue.  How many properties would qualify?  We have some well-informed estimates, but could still be off by hundreds.  And that simply won't do.  The risks of violating Proposition 2 1/2 levy limits or experiencing a large overlay deficit are too great.

The Assessors have met with the Board of Selectmen and Town Administrator twice since the November 2018 classification hearing.  The discussion has focused on staffing for the assessing department and the steps needed to pre-qualify what we think could be 1,600 individual properties.  The Selectmen have asked our department to bring a warrant article to special town meeting in the fall of 2019 in order to fund an administrative assistant for the department.  The hiring process would almost certainly run into early 2020, but it would be possible to begin pre-qualifying in order to be ready for a decision at the classification hearing in late November of calendar year 2020.

Throughout the discussions, all parties involved have expressed a strong commitment to public discourse before making a decision on the exemption itself.  The steps being taken now are needed if a serious discussion is going to take place next year.  Without knowing how many properties qualify, we can't model the impacts accurately, and without those data, we are all at a disadvantage in the discussion.  The town voters may decide not to fund this position...money is always tight...or they may decide that given overall staffing needs in the department that they will support the hire.  Throughout this period and for more than a year following the decision on staff, the assessors will be here to provide technical information to everybody involved in the discussion of a residential exemption.  As staff, our only goal is to provide accurate information to the decision makers and the public.  

Below is a link to the "white paper" our department presented at the July 9, 2019 joint meeting with the Selectmen and Board of Assessors.  Also included are potential impacts both positive and negative of a few potential exemptions.  These are based on our best estimates of qualifying properties and use FY19 numbers.

You may view the joint meetings on MVTV here:

July 9 (begins at about 1:18:00)

July 23 (begins at about 3:00)

UPDATE August 15 2019: I have added a new set of "external" documents to this page.  These were sent to the Selectmen, Assessors, and FinCom between the July 9 and July 23 meetings.  This page now contains all the documents my office distributed for these meetings.

Related Town of Oak Bluffs Documents