Overwhelming opposition to a proposed residential tax exemption that would shift up to 20 percent of the Mashpee property tax burden from year-round to seasonal residents has all but rung the death knell for the plan proposed by selectman Andrew R. Gottlieb.
Approximately 200 Mashpee residents and homeowners—year-round and seasonal—attended a public hearing on Monday evening, August 18, at Mashpee High School.
A vast majority of those in attendance were opposed to the tax exemption proposal.
Nearly 40 homeowners among the highly energized, vocal crowd took to the microphone to address the selectmen, with only one offering support for the plan.
At one point during the 90-minute meeting, the queue of residents waiting to address the selectmen was 10-deep.
Issues of concern repeatedly raised by residents included second homeowners paying a disproportionate amount of taxes for the amount of service used, taxation without representation, and discrimination.
Alan Waxman, a property owner of a second home at the Beechwood Point Condominiums on Santuit Pond, raised concern over the possibility of hostility erupting among neighbors. “A 40 percent tax disparity between seasonal residents and their neighbors who have children in the school system could create hostility among people, ruining relationships between neighbors, and chasing people away from town,” he said.
Many of the speakers exhibited a flair for the dramatic, delivering caustic remarks to the selectmen who were seated on the high school auditorium stage. One man went as far as to tell the selectmen that he did not think they knew what they were doing, while Punkhorn Point Road resident Norman Schiller asked, “What are you guys, nuts?”
Popponesset Island Road resident Eli Florence advised the selectmen not to “strangle the golden goose,” referring to seasonal residents who don’t take advantage of many town services, including the school system, yet pay taxes toward their operation.
At one point near the beginning of the meeting, shouts of “recall” from the back of the auditorium were directed toward Mr. Gottlieb, who was only elected to the board of selectmen three months ago.
Former selectman Thomas F. O’Hara, who lost his seat by six votes to Mr. Gottlieb in the May town election, also took to the microphone, saying that he thought the tax exemption was a bad idea, and that combined with regulations imposed by the Cape Cod Commission, the proposal would make it even harder to create jobs in the community. Mr. O’Hara was a leader in placing an article on the May Town Meeting warrant calling for Mashpee to withdraw from the commission. The article was easily defeated by voters.
The defining moment of the evening, though, came when the selectmen were asked this question by a seasonal resident from Braintree: if they had to vote on the tax exemption proposal at that very moment, how would they vote? The straw poll resulted in a 4-to-1 vote against the exemption, with only Mr. Gottlieb saying that he would vote in favor of the tax exemption.
In an interview on Tuesday morning, August 19, Mr. Gottlieb admitted defeat and acknowledged that the tax exemption proposal will not be moving forward.
“I was not surprised that those who were going to be asked to pay more money would show up and make their views known,” he said.
Mr. Gottlieb said that there is still a larger issue that must be addressed in town—what can be done to provide some economic stability for people who choose to live here year-round. “As opposed to a discussion about who consumes what town services, we need to make year-round residency sustainable in a town that is quickly becoming a resort and retirement community,” he said.
When asked where the supporters who led him to victory in May were last night, he said, “I don’t know,” adding that they may have known that it was not going to be a hospitable environment to express support for the residential tax exemption initiative.