WILBRAHAM — Residents recently received a crash course on why their local taxes rise or fall, what goes into the arithmetic that determines the tax rates themselves and what often used terms such as “free cash” and “mill rates” actually mean.

The program, entitled “Why Did Your Taxes Go Up?” was presented Feb. 22 before at least 40 members of the community at Wilbraham Middle School.

The first-time event was coordinated by the Wilbraham Republican Town Committee with the intent to break down why town taxes were what they were in FY24 and why those taxes will likely increase again in the future.

Not sponsored by or coordinated with the town of Wilbraham, the information session was introduced by Wilbraham resident, Finance Committee member and Economic Development Committee Chair Michael Mazzuca, who moderated a three-member panel tasked with breaking down the elements that go into the town’s tax calculations.

Todd Schneider and Jeff Farnsworth, both members of the town’s Finance Committee, and Lawrence LaBarbera, who chairs the Board of Assessors, made up the panel, explaining to the audience the roles of the assessors and legislative body in determining the final spending figures that are presented for approval at Town Meetings.

All the participants were volunteering time for the forum and addressed specific areas concerning where money was directed for schools, public safety and other community needs.

The audience also learned how home and land sales contribute to the property values in town as determined by the Board of Assessors.

LaBarbera, speaking to the primary question of why taxes increased, dissected the roles of the legislative bodies and the assessors in determining rates and increases.

“The market value of property has skyrocketed in the last two or three years, he said. “It’s great if you’re going to sell your house but not if you’re looking at the taxes.”

LaBarbera went on to explain that the assessed property values are based largely upon sales and are reviewed and approved by the Department of Revenue.

He noted that in recent years, those values have increased as much as 7% to 8% annually, with value moving from within the $300k into the $400 range. The total values of all real and personal property are all part and parcel of the assessment to reach the total values within the town.

The legislative bodies, including the Finance Committee and town departments submit individual budget requests and information which goes into the determinations for the totals needed to be raised by the town through existing funds or by taxation.

In terms of FY24, a total of $59,595,328.14 was identified as the number to be raised, less $14,096,932 in estimated town receipts. The total remaining of $45,498,396.14 was left to be raised by town taxation.

The final step was to divide the amount to be raised by the assessed property values of $2,459,372,764, reflecting the change/increase in the tax rate of $18.50.

Questions from the audience included those from residents who live in private communities concerning public works rebates, town salaries and the impact of the Senior Center project on the tax levy.

Tracey Farnsworth with the Wilbraham Republican Town Committee said the intent of the event was straightforward, “to be educational.” she said.

“I just think it’s important for people to know what is going on,” she said. “We vote on things at Town Meeting but we don’t always know the meat and potatoes of it. “I think sometimes we go on feelings and emotions, ‘Oh I like that’ or ‘That sounds really good,’ but we don’t think about what it actually entails.

Based on the audience response and interaction, Farnsworth was asked if they would present such a program again.

“I do think we will discuss it,” she said.

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