The vast majority of our Town’s revenue, 76%, comes from property taxes (the next largest source of revenue is State aid). Right now, 84% of the Town’s property taxes come from residential property, and only 12% come from commercial and industrial property. With the singular exception of the Pilgrim Power Station, that has remained static for a number of years. But power station revenue is now gone, and we have done nothing to replace it.
Many people look to the boom in residential housing and ask why taxes keep going up despite having more taxpayers. The reason is that the cost to the Town to provide services to the average family in Plymouth is more than their tax bill. As a simple example, it currently costs the Town $21,000 per student for public school services. The average tax bill in Plymouth is $7,400. So before we get to other town services, new residential development costs the Town significantly more than it brings in.
Clearly, increased residential development is not the answer to increased revenue growth. So what about increased business?
Plymouth is ideally situated to be the business epicenter of Southeast Massachusetts. We have the geographic location, the largest population, and existing growth areas. Our coastal access allows for increased scientific and aquaculture development. All of these factors would seem to make Plymouth the logical choice for anyone wanting to do business in the region. But somehow, Plymouth struggles to attract new commercial ventures, why?
A consistent refrain from those trying to bring businesses to Plymouth (including those who ultimately elected not to proceed) is that the Town makes the process too lengthy and unpredictable. Approvals from multiple committees are required, and consideration of applications are often delayed. The perception is that rather than encouraging business, the Town is putting up roadblocks.
Moreover, like so many things in Plymouth, the issue of intelligent commercial growth is not just about the numbers.
We need businesses that provide good paying jobs for residents. In 2000, a person making the Plymouth median income could afford to buy a home in Plymouth. Just four years later, that was no longer the case. Home prices continue to rise without a similar increase in the average income, which is why Plymouth has one of the lowest numbers in the State of residents both living and working in the same town.
We also need businesses that provide services for our residents in order to maintain Plymouth as a vibrant year-round community. Businesses like medical, trades, manufacturing, technology, and hospitality. Otherwise, Plymouth will become like so many communities on the Cape - occupied principally by seasonal residents.
Finally, we need to consider appropriate commercial development because if we don’t work with the owners of commercial lots we will lose our ability to control what is built. Look at the large apartment complex being built behind Home Depot. After the Town discouraged commercial proposals on that land, the owner sold it to a developer who is building apartments under a state statute, Chapter 40B, which circumvents the Town’s zoning restrictions. That is likely to happen again and again if the Town continues to be perceived as unfriendly to commercial ventures.
It’s time to reassess how Plymouth ‘does business with business’. We need to streamline the process, limiting the number of approvals needed from different groups and departments. We should also create a fast-track approach for businesses seeking to utilize existing, empty spaces. By making this a priority can we level residential property taxes and provide opportunity to our next generation of residents.