The Select Board met last night with all members present. They were joined by Town Assessor Joanne Foley.
COA holiday party beer & wine sales approved. Broadway Village Foods dba Village Inn Steakhouse requested and received a one-day liquor license to run the Council on Aging’s Holiday Party at the Tewksbury Senior Center on Dec. 2, from 6 – 10 p.m. Tickets are available now for $30 per person. There will be music, a catered dinner and dancing to The Journey Men.
The delegation came through with a home rule petition to formally change the Board of Selectmen to Select Board. The board approved the wording and will now send the petition back to the state. Once finalized, the town will be able to use the new nomenclature on ballots and in the town charter and bylaws.
Cracker Barrel Sunday hours change. In October, Cracker Barrel traded in its wine and malt license for a full liquor license and informed the Board that it may seek expanded serving hours. It followed through last night, requesting permission to open and serve alcohol at 10 a.m. on Sundays for brunch. Sales start at 11 a.m. other days. The request was approved unanimously.
Next, the annual tax rate classification hearing. The residential/commercial tax shift will increase from 1.59 in FY22 to 1.66 for FY23. That puts the Tewksbury FY23 residential tax rate at $14.10 per $1,000 of value versus $26.60 for commercial/industrial properties, a $12.50 savings for residents.
Foley reports that the average single-family home is valued at $553,000 for FY23, up from $489,065 in 2022, a rise of 13.1%. The average tax bill will be $7,799, up $365 from FY22.
Condos went up about 10% in value and will see an average increase of $97, for a typical bill of $5,609. Commercial properties will go up an average of $145, and industrial properties will rise $3,842.
For FY22, the average tax rate in Massachusetts was $14.58. Other surrounding towns have also set their rates: Billerica voted for a $560 increase in 2023, and Chelmsford residents will see a $404 jump versus Tewksbury’s $365.
Foley pointed out that many residents will see smaller increases and that there are a number of exemptions available, including for seniors and veterans. Her office will be happy to help concerned residents access those programs.
“Thirteen percent is a big jump,” she said. “We did see a lot of sales even though prices are up.”
In fact, this is the largest increase in home values in at least 10 years. Montuori said the goal was to keep all property categories at roughly the same percentage of the overall levy and pointed out that $885 of each tax bill goes to debt exclusions for the new elementary school, fire station and sewer that residents voted for at Town Meeting and the ballot box.
Member Jay Kelly asked Foley to speculate on what the increase might be for FY24; she suggested that 8% is a reasonable ballpark.
The board again voted no on a residential exemption, but they did express interest in working with the town’s legislative delegation to explore taxing large apartment complexes at the commercial property rate versus residential.
Planning Board member Vinny Fratalia rose to speak.
“I voted affirmatively on the schools and the firehouse,” said Fratalia. “And I knew taxes were going to go up, but at some point, I was hoping that maybe they would level off and stop.”
Given the mismatch between the demand for housing and building rates, that’s unlikely. The number of homes for sale in the state is down between 14% and 20% since last year, per Redfin.
The Board approved the 1.66% shift unanimously.
“Residents have come to appreciate the level of services this community offers,” said Chair Todd Johnson. “The only way those things happen is property taxes.”
Former Planning Board member Jay Delaney spoke during the resident section and asked whether Select Board members will need to abstain from voting on a marijuana license if a proponent is a friend or relative.
Montuori replied that any member who sees a potential ethics violation should consult with the Ethics Commission. That would apply to both the Select Board and the Planning Board.
“I know you appreciate as a former elected official how seriously we all take that responsibility,” said Johnson. “It doesn’t apply just to retail marijuana. It applies to every decision that board members up here make, and I believe that everyone has held themselves to the highest standards possible.”
Marijuana regulation updates were a hot topic given the number of proposals being floated and a mysterious anonymous letter that landed in some residents’ mailboxes this week.
“My perspective is that this needs to be slow-walked,” said Johnson. “This select board member isn’t necessarily going to support three licenses right out of the gate.”
His point is that retail marijuana is new for the town and that would-be dispensary owners should not make business decisions based on “what they think is going to happen.”
Some key changes to the bylaw:
The words “first come, first served basis” have been replaced by a list of criteria that the Board will consider when issuing local marijuana retail sales licenses.
In addition to a complete application with the items required by the state, the town wants to see:
- Demonstrated relevant experience in the cannabis or a similar industry;
- Evidence that stakeholders in the establishment are free of disqualifying criminal convictions;
- Compatibility of the proposed location with the adjacent neighborhood;
- Consideration of geographical location;
- Documentation on expected traffic, parking or other adverse impacts and proposed mitigations; and
- A security plan that meets or exceeds state standards.
In addition, the Board wants to know when the proposed dispensary would open if a license is granted and be provided with a business plan, financial records and other documentation “demonstrating strong capitalization and likelihood of successful operation over the long term.”
The Board also wants to hear why a proponent believes its proposal should be selected over others and reserved the right to give preference to a qualified local applicant.
In addition, applicants must get site plan approval from the Planning Board before an application will be considered by the Select Board.
Once all completed applications are in and the Attorney General approves both the General Bylaw and Zoning Bylaw changes made at October Town Meeting — likely not before the new year — the Board will schedule hearings for all applicants with complete packets.
In response to a query by Jayne Wellman, Montuori advised the Board to not make any decisions the night of a presentation but instead take all proposals under advisement, a sentiment echoed by members.
“The Select Board has the authority to issue all, some or none of the licenses authorized pursuant to the general laws,” said Wellman. “I think the advisory to applicants is important and for the public to continue to give us feedback as we go.”
The Board voted unanimously to accept the revised regulation, and Johnson reminded residents that we’re in a “holding pattern” until the Attorney General approves the bylaws.
Tl;dr for applicants: All being first with an application gets you is an earlier hearing, so better to be comprehensive than quick.
Finally, in board member reports …
Vice-chair James Mackey suggested that residents who have not signed up for the town’s negotiated electric rate look into that program, given the steep increases — 64% — by National Grid. Learn more.
Wellman, who sits on the Elementary School Building Committee, reported that the new Center Elementary School project came in on time and under budget despite Covid and supply chain challenges. Learn more.
She also reported that NMCOG’s housing plan may be delayed past December and reminded residents to check out the first Community Tree Walk, which officially kicks off on Friday with some 20 town groups taking part.
Finally, she congratulated the TMHS girls volleyball team for clinching the Division III state championship.
Member Mark Kratman reported that the LRTA will be fare free during the holiday season. He also noted that the North St. and Trahan School Reuse Committee will be bringing a recommendation to the Select Board shortly. Learn more about possible recommendations.
Finally, he thanked the town’s veterans agent for recent recognitions.
Johnson tied the new elementary school back to the taxes paid by residents. “That’s a very tangible example of why our tax bills go up — we voted for that,” he said. “It’s going to be a jewel in our community. And most importantly, it was managed responsibly, under budget, on time.”
He also thanked the various police unions, the Benevolent Association and the Police Athletic League for underwriting the cost of the Thanksgiving meal for 100 families through the Tewksbury Community Pantry.
Kelly had no updates. The next meeting will be Dec. 6.