Less than a month after the holiday season took its bite from people's bank accounts and credit cards, many property owners in Oak Bluffs took another financial hit in the form of whopping tax bills.
Some taxpayers with waterview properties saw their taxes go up by more than 75 per cent.
The Monday morning after the bills landed in postal boxes turned into a rough day for assessor Dianne Wilson, who showed up for work and spent the day fielding telephone calls.
"It was absolutely terrible. People are not happy," she said. "I feel bad. I'm not trying to run anyone out of town or make them sell their property."
Tax hikes in town were fueled by increases in real estate values and capital spending approved by voters, ranging from a new library to a new sewer system.
Oak Bluffs is not alone, however.
In Edgartown, assessor Will Pfluger said the tax situation was very similar: Values went up and the tax rates barely dropped, thanks to overrides and borrowing measures passed by voters.
But the reaction in Oak Bluffs has been sharp. Homeowners on the Camp Ground were especially hard hit by increases. A two-bedroom house there valued last year at $113,000 shot up to more than $190,000 in valuation this year. The bottom line on the tax bill was an additional $500, a 62 per cent increase.
Not surprisingly, the tax increases have been a hot topic among property owners on the Camp Ground.
"Generally speaking, people are concerned about the overall cost of trying to keep a cottage out here," said Camp Ground general manager Bill McConnell. "A lot of them are folks who are retired and on fixed incomes. The cottage may have been in family for last 40, 50 years, and they don't know if they can hold on to it."
Tax increases were across the board in Oak Bluffs. "I don't know if anybody's taxes went down, but I don't think so," Ms. Wilson said.
Finance committee chairman Mimi Davisson said her board plans to do a better job at this year's annual town meeting informing voters about the impact of any spending proposal.
"That is absolutely a goal of the finance committee," she said.
Assessors worked last summer re-assessing properties in town to keep pace with the current values in the real estate market.
But while assessments overall went up about 18 per cent, the tax rate hardly budged, dropping just two per cent, from $6.98 to $6.83 per $1,000 of valuation.
"Values are increasing so rapidly. While sales have slowed, prices haven't dropped," Ms. Wilson told the Gazette in the fall.
But the bottom line has less to do with the values of the property than with municipal spending.
Given the hefty tax hike, you'd expect to see a huge budget increase from last year. In fact, there were no tax overrides last year, and the budget was level-funded.
What did go up was the town's debt load and the need to raise more than $18.7 million in taxes, a 13 per cent increase over the previous year.
The payback on those debts climbed sharply this year, from $1.5 million to nearly $1.9 million, a 20 per cent increase. Those payments cover a host of projects from the town school and wastewater system to an addition at the regional high school and a new public library that will be built on Pacific avenue.
Debt payment on the library alone cost taxpayers $90,270 this year. The wastewater treatment plant cost $875,860 in debt service.
Meanwhile, some property owners are still smarting from the bills they opened this month. Taxes on a house on Meshacket Way went from roughly $3,000 to more than $4,500, a 50 per cent increase.
And Kathy Moore, whose family has owned a summer house on Seaview avenue for more than 40 years, said their taxes have gone from $5,500 to $9,700 a year, a 76 per cent increase.
Calling the Gazette from her home in Michigan, Ms. Moore said the only improvement her family made to the house in the last year was painting the exterior.
She said the huge jump in taxes could well mean that her family can no longer afford to spend time on the Island.
"This house may end up just being a rental property. We'll use it as a business," she said.
The house enjoys a waterview, and town officials warned last fall that such homes would bear the brunt of new valuations and higher taxes.
But Ms. Moore said that in her view, spiraling taxes actually threaten the cultural fabric of the town.
"My father has spent most of his summers in that house," she said. "If they keep raising taxes like this, they're only going to have rental homes on the water. Is that what they really want?"