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The Town of East Bridgewater, located approximately 20 miles south of Boston, has a population of 13,000 ± with 5,636 taxable parcels. East Bridgewater’s fiscal year 2004 total assessed value is 1,275,229,300.
Residential assessed value is 1,159,716,205 while commercial, Industrial and personal property assessed value constitutes 115,130,095. East Bridgewater’s tax levy for fiscal 2004 is 13,848,990.20.
East Bridgewater Assessment Administration consists of a three-member elected Board of Assessors with a chairman, clerk and one member. The office staff consists of the Director of Assessing, Assistant Assessor, who is the office administrator, along with one Full-time and one part-time clerk. The Director of Assessing is responsible for budgets, the valuation process and the recap sheet, which sets the tax rate for the town. The clerical staff is responsible for the processing of deeds, motor vehicle excise and personal exemptions.
The members of the elected Board of Assessors are David Lincoln Phillips, Curtis Gluck and Linda M Libby, MAA. The Assessing staff is Cheryl A Pooler, MAA, Director of Assessing, Sherrie Lea Bates, Assistant Assessor, Karen Bell, Assessing Technician and Pamela Sproule, Assessing Technician.
Board meetings are scheduled Monday evenings at 7:00 p.m. and are held at the Town Hall in the Assessors Conference Room.
A Brief History of Property Tax
(as printed in the August, 2005 Massachusetts Association of Assessing Officers Newsletter)
This paper was initially delivered at the International Association of Assessing Officers Conference in Boston, Massachusetts on September 1, 2004
In the 11th century, Lady Godiva rode naked on a white horse through the streets of Coventry, England to protest the tax assessment on her husband’s property. He received an abatement. Although poll taxes were prevalent in England, land taxes has existed for hundred of years, and although the lords and king owned land, most peasants paid taxes by way of rent each year. If the land was especially productive, the rental value was higher. In the tenth, eleventh and twelfth centuries an average peasant paid one tenth (a tithe) of the value of crops to the lord who then passed on a percentage to the king. Peasants were also required to give either an additional one-tenth of their crop to the church or spend on tenth of their labor working for the church.
After 1066, William the Conqueror created an early form of land taxation. Town officials kept cadastral records of everyone who owned property. Each parcel was measured, its value estimated. Each town kept a book of the assessment of each property and the total amount of property tax due for each person. This book was called the Doomesday Book, and the name lasted for hundreds of years. Some people in England refer to the assessor’s records as the Doomsday Book even to this day.
After abusing his power and raising taxes to a confiscatory level in 1215, King John was forced to sign the Magna Carta, which limited the king’s power to raise revenue. Taxes from this point on could be collected only with the common consent of his barons. By the sixteenth century, the king’s own lands and estates were taxed. In 1689, the English Bill of rights endorsed a law that the king could not tax without Parliament’s consent.
After 1290, personal property taxes were implemented with exemptions for the poorest (i.e., those whose assessments were less than a shilling). The church was also exempt, as were certain items such as a knight’s armor and a merchant’s capital. The personal property tax rate was one-tenth for those who resided in cities and one-fifteenth for rural residents. These assessments were rough estimates of a person’s assets, and underassessment was the norm. The average tax equaled about two shillings per annum, which was about two days’ wages for a peasant.
The personal property tax was difficult to administer because many people attempted to hide and move personal property. This practice was especially common among wealthier taxpayers who had multiple residences and moved assets to avoid taxation.
From 1662 to 1689, a hearth tax was administered in England and spread to some continental counties. The tax was an estimate of a building’s value. Assessors recorded the number and size of hearths in each home and determined value accordingly. A one-hearth cruck house (typical peasant housing) received a low assessment compared to some mansions that had twenty or thirty heated rooms. This tax was hated and was eventually phased out.
In the legend of Robin Hood, the Sheriff of Nottingham collected taxes. The role originated in the tenth century when each “shire” had a “reeve.” The shire or sheriff was the most important local government official, and his responsibilities included law enforcement, tax assessing and collection. This position was brought over to the colonies.
In 1620 the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts, and began building. After receiving a bundle of arrows wrapped in snakeskin – which they interpreted as a threat from local Indians – they decided to build a fort. The 102 Pilgrims formed a pact that bound them to a set of laws, among them the creation of taxes and assessments. People were generally allocated equal portions of land, but the more productive land was assessed at a higher rate.
In Boston, the Puritans implemented property taxes to pay for the church and the religious education of their children. Regardless of one’s religion, it was mandatory that everyone pay the property tax. Taxes from Boston’s towns went directly to the church. This practice lasted for over one hundred years.
So who exactly was the assessor of this time? In Boston up until 1733, the sheriff was the ex-officio tax assessor and collector. Property taxes paid for the expenses of the community – a sharp contrast to the English stamp act and tea tax that were designed to pay for the cost of security in the New World.
The Boston Town Records of 1676 show the name of each taxpayer, the number of acres of land, the value of houses, the number of cows, swine and sheep, the value of mills and the assessment of personal estate. The assessors kept maps that were numbered. Each number had corresponding narratives listing assets, value and tax. Detailed and proportionate maps showed the metes and bounds of property. Assessors used maps of various scale. By 1822, Boston assessing records broke down real and personal property value along with the calculated taxes for each taxpayer.
In Boston, the expenses of local government were low. There were watchmen at night, a multi-tasking sheriff, expenses for common defense, public infrastructure and education. In fact, Boston had the first public school, Boston Latin, established in 1635. The town council met every year at a public hearing and discussed taxes and expenses. Citizens’ particular situations were also discussed. The grievances of people who were held responsible for municipal expenses beyond the norm were considered.
An examination of a two hundred year old record of a town council meeting in Boston shows that each property assessment and bill laid out before the council required calling upon certain individuals who may have been sick, aged or in poverty.
When determining the tax bill for a widow with twelve children, for example, the council voted to not only exempt her from property taxes but grant her a certain number of shillings quarterly out of the general tax fund. Conversely, a Mr. Phillips, who ran over three light posts while riding drunk down Tremont Street on a horse and wagon, was called before the council and told he would not only be required to pay his property tax bill but also the cost of repairs.
There was a general property tax assessing the value of land, buildings, animals and all personal property. The assessors had accurate records as to ownership, number and types of animas and all personal property including intangible assets. At an early town meeting, voters directed the town council to publish and distribute a complete list of all taxpayers together with the amount and base of their taxes. For years there had been rumblings if inequitable assessments, abatement irregularities, and residency fraud (i.e., moving assets to another town when the assessors were coming).
Note in the table that the tax rate is lower today, but the assessments are probably closer to market value. It has been common throughout history that property is underassessed compared to market value. In the Memorial History of Boston it is stated that property is worth approximately five times its assessed value. The theme of underassessment has repeated itself throughout the history of assessing property values.
As for the rest of northern colonies, similar systems were in place, but the Southern colonies has already established that property taxes were not in the interest of the wealthy classes who owned large estates and significant personal property. The south opted for a greater focus on poll taxes.