Homeowners paying the price for Concord’s growing budget

June 21, 2024

Concord’s budgets are growing materially. Between 2015-2023, our total budget (including schools) grew to ~$140 million from $100 million (or 3.7 percent per year). Town, CPS and CCHS budgets grew 4.3 percent, 2.6 percent and 4 percent, respectively. For reference, national annual inflation over that period was 2.5 percent.

Who’s paying the price? Single-family homeowners. Average valuations reached $1.55 million in 2023, up from $970,000 in 2015 (a 5.4 percent per-year increase). Average tax bills grew almost as much (4.6 percent): ~$20,000 in 2023, up from ~$14,000 in 2015.

If the full budget (including schools) grows by the 2015-2023 rate, it will be $208 million in 10 years (2034). At the Finance Committee 3.5 percent guideline, $203 million. At the 2.5 percent inflation rate, $182 million. Heady figures for a town of 15,500. Average single family tax bills will be $32,900 (4.6 percent), $29,400 (3.5 percent) or $26,400 (2.5 percent). Concord will become evermore unaffordable for everyone but the tax exempt.

People will say you can’t look at town or school budgets this way; they’re different. They’ll cite technical terms, including overages and exceptions (a sleight of hand). They’ll say debt doesn’t count (it does) or we have large fixed costs (everyone does). They’ll argue it’s not just Concord that is out of control; look at neighboring towns (we’re all profligate).

The solution? The Select Board and relevant committees should keep budgets in line with long-term inflation. Families don’t get to ask their employers for 5-6 percent annual wage increases. They have to live within a budget, prioritizing where money gets spent. Concord’s budget-holders should do the same. If they can’t, then offer two votes per each budget at Town Meeting — one at or below long-term inflation, one at the (uncontrolled) level. Then make it much easier for families to attend, engage and vote (else the 5 percent of voters who can attend will continue to ignore budget increases).

Mark Watson

Dana Road