December 12, 2018

Worcester again increases business property tax burden

Photo/Grant Welker
Worcester City Hall.

Despite pleas from a host of business owners and others in the business community to narrow the gap between the residential and commercial tax rate, the Worcester City Council on Tuesday again opted to decrease the tax bill for homeowners at the expense of commercial and industrial property owners.

The new rates of $18 per thousand dollars of valuation for residential properties and $34.90 for business properties will raise the average tax bill by $47 and $135, respectively.

This year's rates are $18.91 for residential and $34.03 for commercial properties.

Although the tax rates decreased, property valuations across the city are up, leading to the tax bill increase despite the lower rate.

At the council meeting, first to speak was Alex Guardiola, director of government affairs and public policy for the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, which for several years has been advocating to narrow the gap between commercial and residential tax bills in hopes of eventually getting Worcester back to a single-tax rate since splitting the two in 1984.

Guardiola noted several neighboring towns have taken steps to reduce the tax burden on business owners, including Auburn, Fitchburg, Webster and Clinton.

"This leaves Worcester as the only local community who instead of narrowing the gap has increased it over the past three years," he said.

The high tax rate, he said, is particularly damaging to manufacturers and inventory-heavy companies.

Guardiola and the chamber proposed keeping the residential tax rate at $18.91 and lower the commercial rate to $32.32.

Business owners said running a business is already becoming more expensive as the state's minimum wage is expected to increase to $15 an hour by 2023.

Oriola Koci, an owner of two Worcester restaurants, said she can only ask customers to pay for so much to pay for those rising costs.

"There's a lot of stuff we as business owners have to worry about," Koci said.

Voting for the new rates were councilors Morris Bergman, Khrystian King, Gary Rosen, Konstantina Lukes, Candy Mero-Carlson and George Russell.

Mayor Joseph Petty, Kathleen Toomey and Matthew Walley voted for the Chamber's recommendation, while Sarah Rivera and Sean Rose voted for a compromise rate of $18.63 for residential and $33.12 for commercial.

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