I looked in vain for any recognition by the Daily News of the real source of our excellent tax rate. In the article, Port taxes creep up gradually, they give the credit to Mayor Moak and to the present Mayor but what they don’t give credit to are the Unseen Heroes. These deliverers won’t be found in City Hall unless of course, they briefly visit or attend a meeting or two.
It isn’t because of some large developer building a residential complex or a huge business starting up inside our borders. It isn’t even the direct result of all the visitors who come to check out Newburyport and who buy and sell here.
There are actually two groups who often work separately and together for the benefit of us all. They are open space advocates and historic preservationists. Open space supporters know the importance of preventing infrastructure pressure. Everytime someone builds a building, the municipal authority must generate many times the actual tax yield produced to pay for servicing it: fireman, police, roads, sewer, water, etc. And if it’s residential, the new pressures of schools and other department services can multiply the taxes required by four times! This is why Newbury which has an inability to say no to new housing is flat broke while Newburyport even in a recession is sitting comfortable. The preservation of the Common Pasture and the Little River Watershed along with excellent urban planning has made our City tolerable.
Now the irony is that the second group of heroes are the historic preservationists. By preserving the historic structures in our city and working for protections, we increase the property values which in turn increases our tax revenues. We pay more in property taxes and yet our tax rate is much lower than many communities around us. We all benefit by having equity to do home improvements and the City receives a comfortable income resulting from an increase of ‘value’. If the Historic District had been subject to ravages of new construction the tax burden would have been intolerable! The Preservation Groups in town have put us in a pretty place.
The proof of all this is the Town of Merrimac. They have been inundated by 40B’s. Even though the Town argued that it had insufficient water, sewer and many services to handle such hurdles, they have been dragged to court many times and…LOST. Forced to bend under the weight of new development, they have had to subject their longsuffering taxpayers to heavy burdens. An enormous 27.4%!!!
People may smirk at the Mayor’s push for historic preservation and open space. They may laugh at the relentlous drive for affordable housing but we could yet suffer the terrible fate of Merrimac. All we need is to fall under the burden of a heartless developer who pushes for a 40B*. We can only be guaranteed to escape such a fate if we have 10% of our housing ‘affordable’. We are way below that threshhold.
Newburyport could suffer like Merrimac and other communities if we don’t support open space purchases, historic districts and affordable housing initiatives.
If we get comfortable in our present position and forget to plan for the future, we could end up in the same terrible fate!
* 40B’s can disregard sewer, schools, water, zoning and even historic preservation. A 40B can theoretically be built in a swamp! You can see why there is a current move to repeal this law.