EASTHAM — Nonresidents now own more than half the homes here, but the select board has decided it is not yet time to adopt the residential tax exemption (RTE). On Jan. 24, the board voted 3-2 to table discussion of the policy until 2023.
The exemption would give most year-round residents a break on their property taxes by shifting some of the burden to part-time residents. The select board has agreed to implement the RTE if the proportion of households occupied by year-round residents goes below 40 percent for two consecutive years. Finance Director Rich Bienvenue said he was confident that the current number was 45 percent.
Bienvenue said if the town were to adopt a 10-percent RTE, a year-round resident with a home assessed at the median value ($529,000) would pay taxes on $476,100 of the property value ($529,000 minus $52,900). The RTE is scaled so that less valuable properties get a larger tax break and more valuable properties get less of a break, up to a break-even point of $1,271,000.
Bienvenue calculated that, with a 10-percent RTE, a year-round resident with a median value home would save $290. A part-time resident with the same value house would pay $184 more.
“Based on our own numbers,” said board member Jared Collins, “if we do not say yes to this, it’s irresponsible.”
Chair Art Autorino said he thought the RTE was unfair. “This is the worst thing we could do,” he said. “I don’t want to drive this wedge between our residents and nonresidents.”
Sixteen municipalities in Massachusetts have adopted the exemption, including Provincetown, Truro, Wellfleet, Barnstable, Oak Bluffs, Tisbury, and Nantucket. The other Outer Cape towns have higher shares of nonresidents than Eastham: in 2019, the Independent reported that the figure was 63 percent in Provincetown, 86 perent in Truro, and 74 percent in Wellfleet.
Board member Aimee Eckman argued that the RTE was a weaker tool than the town’s affordable housing programs.
“Throwing a couple hundred bucks at somebody who’s being priced out of the housing market is not going to change things,” she said. She also argued that part-time residents use fewer town services. “Their kids aren’t in our schools. They’re helping pay for our school systems and infrastructure, and they’re not here year-round.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Collins replied. “The reason it is so hard for people to be able to live here is because people are buying up all the property, bringing the prices up.”
Board member Jamie Demetri noted that the RTE does not change the overall tax levy. “I view the RTE as a way of shifting the burden off residents who are already being negatively impacted by this ferocious housing market, lack of year-round housing, and lack of jobs that pay them enough to be able to be here,” she said. “Shifting that tax burden onto the source of where it’s coming from is the responsibility of this board.”
Town Administrator Jacqui Beebe suggested that the RTE is inevitable in Eastham, but advised waiting until the ratio of nonresidents becomes more skewed.
Autorino moved to table the RTE until next year. Eckman and Al Cestaro voted with him; Demetri and Collins opposed the motion.