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Quincy mayor vowing to avoid property tax hikes

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  December 10, 2010 04:21 PM

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While property tax bills rise in many South Shore communities, Mayor Thomas Koch is dedicated to keeping them the same in Quincy, a goal that some say will be difficult for the administration to attain.

Although tax rates, which will affect fiscal 2011 budgets, haven't been officially determined, mayoral spokesman Chris Walker said the city will collect the same amount of taxes this year as last year.

“The mayor has made it clear that tax [levy] will not increase,” Walker said. “We factored in the same amount of taxes that we raised. We haven’t gone up on that except for new growth.”

If anything, it’s a point of pride for the administration, which intends to keep taxes steady for a second straight year.

“You should keep in mind the city is one of only 23 cities that did [not raise the tax levy] last year. And there is quite a few less, if at all, who have done it two consecutive years,” Walker said.

According to Director of Municipal Finance Nick Puleo, part of the reason for the policy is that the administration feels Quincy residents couldn’t handle an increase.

“We felt that part of the reason the climate is what it is is that [people are doing poorly], and part of being in a middle class city, the mayor felt that people couldn’t afford it,” Puleo said.

Because property values have decreased, residents might see an increase in their tax rate, but they'll end up paying the same amount, Puleo said.

Still, with less money coming in from the state, and without an increase in taxes, something has to give.

For Quincy, it will continue to be the budgets of numerous city departments.

“It wasn’t one particular budget,” Puleo said. “We came up with a difficult budget in the spring, anticipating not having taxes go up. We had to make tough choices and keep everyone’s budget low.

“There are things in everyone’s budget that are suffering right now, but we felt we couldn’t ask [residents] to pay for those things,” he said.

But for others in the town, there doesn’t seem much more room to give.

“The mayor has made a conservative fiscal budget, and a lot of it depends on state aid. Every time it’s cut back, it means more money [that we need to raise from] taxes,” said Marion Fantucchio, chairman for the Board of Assessors.

According to School Committee member Anne Mahoney, whose department also received significant cutbacks this year, keeping taxes steady is a smart thing to do, but will require strict management of current city budgets.

“In our current budget this year, where the budget is running deficits -- the Fire Department having holes in their budget, and us running on a slim budget already. We’re in a structurally unsound place. And with the choices of not raising taxes, you really have to manage that bottom line,” she said.

It’s a tricky situation, she said. Even though the school budget is on target for this year, times are still tough - the number of families that need free and available lunches having risen significantly as of late.

As for tax rates next year, Puleo said he doesn't expect it to get any easier.

“The stuff I’m hearing is a $1 billion deficit [in the state budget]. What we’re looking at for cuts? I hope it’s nothing, that they find some other way to do it. Our state aid has been dramatically hit the last couple of years, But in looking at percentages, we don’t know yet, but it’s going to be another tough year,” he said.

Mahoney fears that the short-term success of avoiding tax increases will come back to haunt the city in future years.

“We’re blindly headed into the storm. I don’t want the tax rate to increase, but I want to know where we’re going,” she said.

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