Tisbury property taxes will be sharply higher in 2011, largely due to falling property values and the extra expense of the town’s new emergency services building.

For fiscal year 2011, residential tax rates will go up 14.3 per cent compared with the current year. Commercial rates will go up 14.6 per cent.

And rates are unlikely to come down significantly for several years, an outlook which prompted selectmen to suggest the town would have to hold off on significant further infrastructure projects in the near future.

They may actually go up, depending on the further movement in property assessments and the rate at which town debt rolls off.

But it could be worse for year-round residents. In approving the new rates at their Tuesday meeting, selectmen decided to stick with the existing differential rates for non-resident homes and for commercial property.

Tisbury will continue with a 30 per cent “shift” of costs to commercial properties, and a 20 per cent exemption for year-round residents. Thus the tax of a $500,000 year-round home will be $2,596, compared with $3,755 for a non-resident home and $4,740 for a commercial property of the same value.

The changes went through with little discussion and no public objection. In years past the shift of costs from residential to commercial property has been controversial. Although it was less obviously so this year, selectman Tristan Israel took the opportunity to note that over recent years, the extra tax burden borne by businesses had declined from 75 per cent to the current 30.

The residential exemption, however, has remained constant for more than a decade.

Given the prevailing economic circumstances, he said, now did not seem a good time to make any changes which would impact cash-strapped year-round residents.

The reasons behind the increase were explained to the board by town treasurer and tax collector Tim McLean and assistant assessor Ann Marie Cywinski.

The total amount to be collected by the town in property taxes would have to increase about seven per cent to cover the town’s expenses. But the tax rate was driven higher because property values had fallen during the recession, meaning that money would be levied off a smaller base.

“If values hadn’t gone down, the rate would have gone up only about half as much,” said Mr. McLean.

Ms. Cywinski said the assessed values were down about six per cent over all.

More worryingly, she said the assessed values were based on sales in 2008 and 2009. The property market has since fallen further. After a full assessment of values in the town next year, it is likely values will be lower still.

The slightly better news was delivered by Mr. McLean. The town’s debt, about half of it resulting from the decision to build the new emergency services building, would decline after 2011.

Debt would be about $1.875 million in 2011, declining to $1.675 million for the next two years, then would fall back to what he called the “traditional amount” of about $1.2 million.

“So we’re going to take a hit for the next three years, which is what we said at town meeting,” he said.

In the meantime, though, selectmen noted, it raised a red flag for spending.

Mr. Israel suggested it would mean the town would have to defer plans for a new town hall and possibly the planned expansion of Tisbury’s wastewater facility.

The town was “really starting to feel the pressure” for the wastewater system, and it was an issue the town had to “really delve into.”

“That may be the next big capital consideration this town needs to deal with. And everybody really needs to weigh in on what their priorities are,” he said.

Chairman of the board Jeff Kristal referred to the free-spending ways of those attending the annual town meeting.

“We’ve got a boot we fill at town meeting,” he said.

The best way to keep taxes lower was not to “fill the boot so high.”

Only “really, really important” projects should go on the meeting warrant, he said, and encouraged people to turn up to have their voices heard on whether they should proceed.

In other business, the board approved renewals for six annual beer and wine licenses, with a minimum of fuss. All but one were identical in terms to their existing licenses; the Black Dog bakery had changed managers.

Mr. Israel said there had been only a few minor glitches in the first season of operations under the new beer and wine regulations. Mr. Kristal said he had heard a few complaints and urged anyone with a concern to take it immediately to the Tisbury town manager or the police.