Land debt to up taxes for Hollis residents

HOLLIS – The debt payments on recent land purchases will cause the biggest increase in the town tax rate in 2005, according to a first reading of the town budget Tuesday night.

That news became evident two days before voters decide whether to spend an additional $4.2 million to conserve an 260 acres. The vote will be held tonight at a Special Town Meeting at 7 in the Hollis/Brookline High School Auditorium.

The proposed town budget shows that the overall tax rate, which includes the cost of the operating budget, proposed warrant articles and debt service, will increase an estimated 39 percent from $2.53 per $100,000 of assessed property valuation to $3.52.

The owner of a $350,000 home would pay about $346 more in property taxes than in 2004, with $141 of that coming from debt payments.

The budget is in its preliminary stages; a second reading will be held Jan. 20. Residents can weigh in on the proposal at a public hearing Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. in Town Hall.

Before this year, the town’s only bond repayments were on the 1986 bond for police station construction. The first full payments on the bonds for the land purchases made since 2001 will come due during 2005, which is why the taxpayers are only now seeing the true tax impact of these types of land acquisitions.

While debt service costs homeowners 11 cents per $100,000 this year, projections show that it will cost 51 cents per $100,000 next year, an increase of 364 percent.

Another chunk of the proposed tax rate increase will come from a $3.5 million warrant article to renovate the town’s police and fire department facilities and the Department of Public Works. The departments have outgrown their buildings and renovations are needed to meet state and federal environmental standards, according to town officials.

The Environmental Protection Agency is now requiring water that is used to wash town vehicles, potentially containing substances such as silt and oil, be filtered out and transported to landfills rather than flowing into the town septic system.

If voters pass the article, it would cost about 20 cents per $100,000 of assessed valuation.

There is a chance that the proposed tax rate could further increase. The Land Protection Study Committee has not yet decided how much it will request in its 2005 warrant article for future land purchases.

“We do not have a budget request at this time. We thought it would be appropriate to see what the sense of the voters is at Special Town Meeting,” land committee Chairman Gerry Gartner said Tuesday night.

Gartner addressed the argument of some residents that the land committee take a year off. Without a budget however, the land committee would probably disband, Gartner said

Mike Harris, Budget Committee chairman, urged Gartner and the other members of the land committee to use moderation when they request funds.

“But I understand you don’t want to miss important chances,” Harris said.

On Monday night, the Budget Committee took its first official look at the Hollis School District budget. The preliminary proposal shows about an 8 percent increase over last year’s budget, up from $8.8 million to $9.5 million.