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Walsh proposes lower Boston property taxes

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s adminiistration is moving to expand the city’s residential tax exemption for the first time in 17 years.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/File 2016

Boston homeowners are likely to see their property tax bills shrink by the end of the year under a proposal that would expand the city’s residential exemption for the first time in 17 years.

The measure is part of a push to ease the financial burden on the city’s middle-class families, who are strained by stagnated wages and the increasing cost of living, said David Sweeney, the city’s chief financial officer.

The mayor’s office cited the strong local economy, including rising property values, as the reason the city has a financial cushion to cut property taxes.

The proposal is twofold: It would reduce the property tax bill for single-family, owner-occupied homes by an average of $299 — from $3,533 to $3,234. It would also increase the residential exemption to 35 percent for taxpayers who make their homes their principal residence.


The average 2017 property tax bill for residents in single-family homes will be the lowest since 2011, Sweeney said.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who faces a reelection campaign next year, is pushing the proposal through the City Council on Wednesday to beat the Jan. 1 property tax filing deadline. It is in response to a state law passed last week that increased the maximum residential exemption to 35 percent from 30 percent.

“I think it’s important, in that it will provide some property tax relief for homeowners who have seen their tax bills increase annually over the past few years,’’ said Samuel R. Tyler, president of the nonprofit Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a fiscal watchdog funded by businesses and nonprofit organizations.

Sweeney said passage of the residential exemption would not reduce revenue. Under state law, he said, the city can increase the amount of taxes levied by a maximum of 2.5 percent — in a manner that provides the most tax benefit to residents.


The law does not allow the city to charge different rates for properties with different values, but all homeowners receive the same exemption, so that middle- and lower-income homeowners in effect receive a higher break by percentage, he added.

“People assume that their taxes go up every year, but in this case, they are going down fairly substantially,” Sweeney said.

Ronald W. Rakow, Boston’s assessing commissioner, said the city has had significant increases in assessed valuations, driven by rapidly appreciating property values.

“Increasing the residential exemption amount will just provide some assistance to homeowners,’’ he said after a brief council hearing on the issue.

Tyler urged city officials to consider the added burden on businesses.

“They need to be careful that they are not shifting too much on business that it won’t have an impact,’’ he said. “We are not seeing that right now because Boston is seeing new growth every year. We just want them to be careful.”

City officials said commercial property taxes are also declining slightly, from $11 to $10.60 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Sweeney said some people’s tax bills might increase, depending on their property values or neighborhoods. But on average, an overwhelming majority will see a decrease, city officials said.

If the measure passes, each single-family homeowner would save $2,435 on his or her property tax bill by qualifying for the exemption, an increase of $472 over last year’s figure. Residents must apply for the exemption.

Increasing the residential exemption will keep Boston’s taxes competitive with those in other municipalities, officials said. The average Boston residential tax bill will be 38 percent below last year’s statewide average of $5,247, city officials said.


“The whole concept behind the residential exemption is to make the city more affordable for people,’’ Sweeney said. “There’s been a lot of research and a lot written about income disparities in Boston . . . and whether there remains a place for the middle class. This is one tool for the middle class.”

Walsh, who is gearing up for his reelection bid in 2017, helped to advocate for the state law, officials said, working with members of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Revenue.

“Whether they’ve lived here for decades or just moved in, our residents are the foundation to this vibrant and thriving city,’’ Walsh said. “We’re happy to let Boston homeowners keep a little more money in their pockets come tax season with this increase in the residential exemption.”

Councilor Mark Ciommo, who chairs the Ways and Means Committee and filed the residential exemption proposal in the City Council, said that as the owner of a two-family house, he may see his tax bill decrease by about $150. “I think it’s a great effort on the part of all levels of government to give the greatest tax relief to the people who live in the city of Boston,’’ he said.

“We’re leveling the playing field.”

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.