HAVERHILL — The City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday night to set the fiscal 2020 residential tax rate at $13.60 per thousand in valuation, representing a tax increase of $118 for the average single-family home in the city.
The average single-family home in Haverhill is now valued at $345,418. The council voted to keep the ratio of tax burden the same between homes and businesses as it was last year, making the new bill $4,698 for the average single family home.
The average business property now valued at $657,911 will have a new bill of $16,171 — $36 less than last year. The new business tax rate was set at $24.58 per thousand.
The tax levy for fiscal year 2020, which is how much the city must raise though taxes, is $107,514,654.
Before setting the tax rate, the council held a public hearing where four residents spoke out in favor of increasing the levy to $110 million in hopes of funding needs ranging from building maintenance to public safety initiatives.
Thomas Grannemann, a retired economist and recent School Committee candidate, told the council that to secure his suggested increased amount would cost the average single family homeowner $108 on top of the $118 increase the council approved.
He said that because the economy is good, “increases come easier for homeowners when they have jobs and for landlords when rents are up.”
“If Haverhill is ever to catch up to meet city needs, now is the time,” he said, noting the things he would like the city to fund with his suggested higher tax rate should go to things such as increased wages for city employees, hiring more school staff, repairing school buildings and the city’s fire stations, and funding a reserve account.
Parent Joanna Dix also advocated for increasing the levy to $110 million, saying the city has a number of critical needs including repairs to school buildings, the need to hire more school maintenance workers, supporting at-risk students by reducing class sizes, and hiring more student adjustment councilors.
Haverhill High School student Gabriela Vargas also advocated for a higher tax levy, saying she represented the student voice.
“We need more mental health support ... the students are saying this,” she said, adding there is also a need for more funding for special education and for English language learners, and that students want a better school culture where they feel supported, and more teachers.
Haverhill High student Dale Leone told the council that the high school’s technology and resources are not keeping up with technological advances.
“We have smart boards that are broken,” he said. “We’re supposed to have one-to-one Chromebooks for students, but I’m not too sure if we have that. We’re trying to move forward with technology and a lot of the schools, it’s just basic. We’re still having school as if we’re in the 80s. In 2019 and we’re trying to catch up with the tech.”
Councilor Timothy Jordan, who expressed concerns with the physical condition of the city’s fire stations and the need for a new animal shelter, said he would support a higher tax levy as well, as did Councilor Michael McGonagle, who said he’d support a tax levy of $110 million.
City Auditor Charles Benevento told the council that it could not alter the tax levy as there was no appropriation order on the agenda, to do such a thing.
“All you’re doing tonight is deciding on how you’re going to shift the pie,” he said. “There is no ability to change the tax levy.”
The city uses the state’s tax classification law, which allows communities to set lower rates for homes to keep residents’ payments down, while charging businesses at a higher rate.
The owner of the average single-family home in Haverhill valued at $328,320 paid $4,580 in property taxes last year, according to documents provided by city officials. The tax rate was $13.95, meaning the owner of that home paid $13.95 per $1,000 worth of property.
The owner of the average business property in Haverhill valued at $640,115 paid $16,208 in taxes in the last year, the documents show. The business tax rate was $25.32 per $1,000 worth of property.
Every non-revaluation year, the state requires all communities to perform a complete update of property values based on the prior calendar year’s sales and overall market conditions.
This year, fiscal year 2020, Haverhill’s residential properties have increased in value at a greater rate than the commercial, industrial and personal properties, according to city officials.
According to City Assessor Christine Webb, the next round of property tax bills are expected to be mailed the first week of January, and will include the fiscal year 2020 property valuations and the new tax rates.