Issues of interest from in and around Massachusetts.
Galvin Reminds Homeowners of Property Tax Abatements
With property tax bills set to rise nearly $400 on average this year, Secretary of State William Galvin reminded property owners to look into their options for a tax abatement before the deadline to apply passes. More than 80 percent of Massachusetts communities have a Feb. 1 deadline for homeowners to apply to lower their property tax bill through an abatement, Galvin’s office said. The average property tax bill for a single-family home in Massachusetts in 2022 is $6,767, up $395 from 2021’s average bill, Galvin’s office said citing Department of Revenue data.
“With property values continuing to rise, many people will notice their tax bills rising as well. Homeowners should consider their options now, before it’s too late to apply to lower their bills,” Galvin said. He added, “Whether you recently purchased your first home or you are a long-time homeowner whose tax bill has recently gone up, you may be wondering what your options are for lowering your tax bill, and whether you qualify for a property tax abatement.” The secretary, who has oversight of Registry of Deeds offices across Massachusetts, said the fact that many communities last year conducted re-assessments without an actual inspection of properties itself is a reason for a homeowner to consider applying for an abatement, especially if she or he believes the property was over-assessed. Galvin’s Citizen’s Information Service posted a series of reminders about the abatement process, the right to appeal an abatement decision and more on its website. – Colin A. Young/SHNS
Select Board Association to Meet Friday
The annual meeting of the Massachusetts Select Board Association (MSA) is scheduled to take place online Friday. The event is typically tied to the Massachusetts Municipal Association’s Annual Meeting and Trade Show, but was rescheduled after the MMA shifted most of its sessions to a remote format this year. That event took place last Friday and Saturday and included announcements from Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karen Polito around local aid levels in the fiscal 2023 budget. The budget Baker filed Wednesday boosts unrestricted local aid by $31.5 million, and the Division of Local Services has posted preliminary estimates breaking down what each community stands to receive in state aid under the governor’s plan.
The select board business meeting will feature opening remarks from Michael Bettencourt, president of the association and a select board member in Winchester, as well as a report from the group’s nominating committee and election of new officers for 2022. Attendees will also receive a presentation from Lauren Goldberg, a partner at Boston-based firm KP Law, about the legal and policy implications of virtual and hybrid public meetings and what municipal officials need to be aware of going forward. The House and Senate have passed different versions of legislation that would extend the authorization for remote public meetings, otherwise set to lapse in April, until July 15. The event is scheduled for Friday from noon to 1 p.m. and is limited to members of the MSA. All select board members across the state will receive Zoom information for the meeting via email. – Meg McIntyre/SHNS
Missing Minutes Mystery Sparks Talk in North Adams
After an Open Meeting Law complaint revealed that decades worth of meeting minutes for the North Adams Airport Commission were nowhere to be found, city staff dove into the archives in an effort to locate the missing files. They were able to retrieve some of the vanished documents, but records spanning from April 1982 to August 2001 are still unaccounted for.
So, since July, when the Attorney General’s Office ordered the city to replace the records “through whatever means are available,” staff have been working to recreate the minutes using some unlikely sources: Historical newspaper articles and records from outside consulting firms. The state was alerted to the missing records in 2020 after resident Gerrit Blauvelt requested minutes spanning from 1960 to 2004, the Berkshire Eagle reported. In December, Blauvelt filed a second complaint saying he still has not received the documents he requested, according to the Eagle. Blauvelt also said he’d like more information about “when and where missing meeting minutes were located.” The commission’s official response stated the board was “confused” by Blauvelt’s “repeated request” and that the minutes would be made available “as per the resolution of that request and your subsequent appeal to the Massachusetts Attorney General.” The commission was set to discuss the missing meeting minutes, among other topics, a in special meeting Tuesday night. – Meg McIntyre/SHNS
MassDOT Changing Its Approach to Speed Limits
Fearful that speed is more frequently contributing to severe car crashes, the Department of Transportation is working with cities and towns to target areas where the speed of vehicle traffic can be calmed in hopes of preventing fatal collisions. During the week of Jan. 10, Transportation Secretary Jamey Tesler said, MassDOT launched its “Safe Speeds” website to provide municipalities with information on speed management and opportunities to seek grant funding to implement speed control measures. In 2021, there were 415 fatalities due to 386 “crash incidents” in Massachusetts, Tesler said. “We are working to establish target speeds, which is really a change in how we approach speed. Working with communities, listening to communities about what we think the safe speed should be, not trying to maximize speed but trying to bring down to appropriate speeds in [the] community. This is a change in approach,” Tesler said at a Jan. 19 meeting of the MassDOT board. “So again, using things that we can do at MassDOT and in communities to help bring about speed changes, raise awareness through public education, and setting speed limits through speed zoning.” MassDOT said there is a direct and measurable connection between speed and the risk of a fatal car crash.
As speed increases, the risk of a fatal or serious crash also rises and the likelihood of survival decreases, the agency said. “Every mph matters: each 1 mph increase that a person drives can be attributed to a 3% increase in potential loss of life,” MassDOT said. Cities and towns have until March 1 to apply for the next round of funding from the Shared Streets Grant Program, which provides money for municipalities to “quickly implement improvements to plazas, sidewalks, curbs, streets, bus stops, parking areas, and other public spaces in support of public health, safe mobility, and strengthened commerce.” Tesler said the focus on safe speeds and the Shared Streets program go hand-in-hand because “there are opportunities to work with communities with some some small, modest investments through those grants to make a significant difference in safety in certain areas.” – Colin A. Young/SHNS