Businesses encountered significant tax increases, and in some cases they saw their tax bills double, the aldermen said.
Speaking at a Board of Aldermen meeting Thursday night, Ward 6 Alderman Rebekah Gewirtz, who represents Davis Square, talked of one tax bill that jumped from $18,000 to $36,000. Such an unexpected expense "can be devastating" to a local business, she said.
Ward 4 Alderman Tony Lafuente, who owns Flagraphics, on Alston Street in East Somerville, said the tax bill on his commercial building jumped from $18,000 to $25,000.
Some business owners he spoke to saw tax increases of 50 to 100 percent, he said.
Alderman At-Large John Connolly said he spoke to a handful of property owners in West Somerville, some of whom had property taxes increase by 100 percent. "Talk about shock and awe," he said, referring to "the surprise that came in the mail earlier this week."
Gewirtz said she's received "horrified emails from three separate people in different parts of [Davis] Square."
Impacting Commercial Growth, Some Argue
Alderman At-Large William White, president of the Somerville Board of Aldermen, said a number of property owners, "especially, it seems, restaurants," were impacted by taxes that, in many cases, doubled.
White said many restaurants don't own the buildings they're in, but have clauses in their leases that pass on property taxes to them.
Restaurants are "an engine of growth" in Somerville, and the tax increases will "impact further commercial development in Somerville," White suggested.
An Increase in Property Values
The cause of the increased tax bills was a jump in assessed property values, alderman said. Although the commercial tax rate decreased from fiscal-year 2013 to fiscal-year 2014, assessed values jumped in some cases, they said.
"If the value is high enough, it doesn't matter what the rate is," Connolly said. He said in "the breaks are on" in terms of growth in the local business community and "there's the perception that things aren't fair."
"It's just crazy, and where does it stop?" asked Lafuente.
Concern About Residential Taxes
Some aldermen said the jump in commercial tax bills foreshadows a jump in residential tax bills that could hit next year, when the city will conduct a revaluation of residential properties.
"I can't imagine what the tax bills will be next year with all these new assessments," said Lafuente.
Connolly noted the Davis Square area has seen a number of homes sell for over $1 million and said, "We're all going to get caught up in this," because those sales increase property values.
"We are victims of success," said Ward 2 Alderman Maryann Heuston. High property values mean "if I were to sell my home tomorrow, sure, I'd make a lot of money. But where would I go?"
The Board of Alderman's Finance Committee is planning to schedule a public hearing about the matter.