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City Council Sets Property Tax Rate

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

Cambridge residents’ stock portfolios aren’t the only things that have fallen during these unsteady financial times: their property tax bills will also show little to no increase. Thanks to the City Council which agreed on the property tax rate for fiscal year 2009 last night.

More than 58 percent of residential property owners will see either no change or an increase of fewer than $100 in their tax bill, while 25 percent will experience a decrease in their property taxes, City Manager Robert W. Healy told the Council last night.

For the most part, the small percentage of residents to pay increases of over $500 have recently renovated their homes, thus increasing their value, Healy said.

At the May budget meetings, Healy had said that taxes would likely go up to accommodate a budget increase, which the Council set as five percent over the summer.

Calling the results “phenomenal” in light of the “volatile times,” Councilor David P. Maher also noted that the city is in the midst of building a new library and refurbishing its war memorial.

Tax rates in fact increased from the

fiscal year 2008 rate from $7.36 to $7.56 per $1,000 of value. Because property values fell slightly in Cambridge over the past year, the actual amount of taxes charged remained constant or decreased, Maher said.

The tax rate in Cambridge is significantly lower than that of the other cities in the surrounding area. Boston, Brookline, and Somerville have tax rates of $10 or higher per $1,000 of value, Healy said.

The Council’s proposal also includes a measure to use the city’s reserve, or “free cash,” funds to meet $17 million of Cambridge’s 2009 budgetary needs.

The city’s reserve fund, which currently contains $91 million, is the largest in the area, said Vice Mayor Brian P. Murphy ’86-’87. For each of the past three years, Cambridge has taken $9 million of this money to reduce property tax increases.

The new tax plan did not meet universal acclaim.

Kathy Podgers, who frequently comments at Council meetings and is an advocate for residents with disabilities, said that the plan’s use of reserve funds was “artificially propping up the city’s tax rate.”

The Deputy City Manager Richard C. Rossi also responded to concerns raised by the City Council about how the national housing crisis would affect Cambridge properties. Rossi said that residential property sales remain strong, but they have decreased somewhat in the past year.

“There is no backlog of houses in the city waiting to be sold,” he said.

—Staff writer Sarah J. Howland can be reached at showland@fas.harvard.edu.

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