Belchertown has one of the largest land areas in Massachusetts and lies adjacent to the Quabbin Reservoir, one of the largest man-made reservoirs in the country. Although Belchertown is considered a "semi-rural" community with scenic landcape, it has experienced unprecedented residential development. As a result of this influx, the Town's population increased 27 percent to 10,579 in 1990 and is estimated at approximately 14,000 at this time.
Up until the time of the Civil War, an active carriage trade thrived in town. Summer residents discovered Belchertown in the early 1900's, establishing a few large summer hotels. Today there are few farms left. The Center of Town is highlighted by an expansive and beautiful Town Common. Small businesses are located around the Common and in an emerging municipal and economic development area at the site of the former Belchertown State School.
Housing today consists primarily of single family homes, though a considerable number of apartments have been constructed since the 1980's. Most of the newer residents commute to work in nearby urban centers. The Belchertown State School, once the largest employer in Town, closed in 1992 and an Economic Development and Industrial Corporation (EDIC) has been formed to market the site and attract development to the area.
Responsibilities of town government are distributed among several elected and appointed officials and boards. The Board of Selectmen has overall responsibility, although town government is a cooperative effort with several officials and boards having well-defined areas of responsibility.
Persons running for an elected office must file nomination papers with the Town Clerk. Elected officials appoint townspeople to various boards, committees and/or positions under their jurisdiction.
An Annual Town Election is held on the third Monday of May. The Town Clerk has a schedule of voter registration filing dates and financial reporting forms for town meetings, candidates and elections.
Belchertown has an Open Town Meeting, regarded as one of the purest expressions of democracy as a collective voice of the townspeople determining their own affairs. This form of town government encourages and requires the active involvement of informed residents in deciding the course of the Town. The Annual Town Meeting is held on the second Monday of May to review, discuss and vote upon the proposed budget for the following year, and to deliberate and vote on other business. During the year, special town meetings may be held to allow residents to decide upon issues not taken up at the Annual Town Meeting.
The warrant is the official listing of all the articles to be considered at the meeting. It is posted 7 days prior to the Annual Town Meeting and 14 days prior to any Special Town Meeting. Posting locations may be found on this page. Only the articles on the warrant may be discussed and voted upon.
During a town meeting, the Town Moderator (an elected official) presides. If there are any special rules concerning the conduct of the meeting, the Moderator will explain them before the meeting begins. No one may address the meeting without the permission of the Moderator and the Moderator guides debate. The Town Clerk records votes taken by hand, voice or a secret ballot. The order in which articles are discussed may be changed during the meeting by a vote of the meeting. If the Moderator wishes to speak to a particular article, a temporary (substitute) Moderator must be appointed.
The Selectmen are responsible for putting together the Annual Warrant. The warrant must include all articles (such as questions to be put before the voters) requesting in writing by 10 or more registered voters prior to the closing date of the warrant. For a Special Town Meeting, the lesser of 100 or 10 percent of the registered voters is required for placing an article on the warrant. The Selectmen may not change the wording of any article submitted by citizen petition. A Town Constable posts the warrants in several required locations within the Town.
The Selectmen may call a special town meeting at any time provided they give the required 14-day notice.
They are required to convene a special town meeting not later than 45 days after receipt of a request in writing by the lesser of 200 or 20 percent of the registered voters in town. Usually special town meetings are held to deal with business that cannot wait until the next Annual Town Meeting. The Finance Committee is authorized to approve transfers from the reserve fund, often making a special town meeting unnecessary.
The Annual Town Report:
The Board of Selectmen is required by law to publish an Annual Town Report. The Annual Town Report contains lists of all elected and appointed officials, financial data, reports from town departments, minutes of previous year's town meetings, election data, etc. The Report is a document to keep and refer to throughout the year, as well as a tool to use in preparing for informed questioning and debate at town meetings.
The Stabilization Fund may be appropriated by either a Special Town Meeting or Annual Town Meeting with a 2/3 vote. The Fund may be used for any purpose for which the Town is allowed to borrow money, or for any other lawful purpose. In order to create and maintain the Fund, the Town may appropriate in any year an amount not greater than 10 percent of the amount raised in real estate and property taxes in the previous year.
Chapter 90 Monies:
The State has a number of highway construction programs which are funded throughout the year, enabled through Chapter 90. Generally, the Town receives a grant of "state aid" money. However, the Town must first raise and spend the full amount of the project, after which the State will reimburse the Town.
This account represents funds that are available for appropriation. Free cash is generated by amounts unspent in various accounts at the end of the fiscal year. The amount is effective only as of July 1st of any year and only after the amount has been certified by the State following submission of the Town's balance sheet. Free cash may be applied against the tax rate by an act of town meeting or for any other lawful purpose.
Revenue and Taxes:
Revenue that the Town receives for its operating expenses comes from many different sources, for example State monies that are received through what is called a "cherry sheet"; State grants; Federal monies that are distributed by the State; enterprise funds (such as sewer and landfill); departments that collect fees to fund part of their costs; other departmental fees that go to the general fund; motor vehicle excise; and real estate and personal property taxation. The latter two items account for over half of the monies used to operate the Town.
The total budget to run the Town is voted at Annual Town Meeting. The total budget cannot exceed the revenues to be raised by State funds, local receipts, and the "tax levy" on real estate and personal property.
Since the passage of Proposition 2 1/2, towns and cities can raise through taxation only a certain amount of money based on prescribed formulas. The "levy ceiling" is an absolute cap and is 2 1/2 percent of the Town's total taxable assessed value. The "levy limit" is based on the Town's tax levy in the first year Proposition 2 1/2 took effect and may be increased yearly by 2 1/2 percent of that figure, plus the tax value of new construction (decks, pools, house additions, new homes, etc.). The levy limit may be exceeded by an override or debt exclusion approved by the voters at the ballot box.
The Board of Assessors prepares a "Tax Rate Recapitulation" sheet which is sent to the Department of Revenue for approval of the tax rate.
Once the tax rate is approved by the Department of Revenue, the Board of Assessors forwards to the Collector the valuation listing which includes the list of all property owners, addresses and valuations to which the tax rate is applied, accompanied by the warrant which authorizes the Tax Collector to produce and mail the tax bills.
The law requires that all properties be assessed at their "full and fair cash value". This means that the valuation should be about the same as the price you could expect to receive if you sold your property.
Taxes are due four times annually. Your total bill is divided into four separate payments with the first payment due on August 1st, the second on November 1st, the third on February 1st, and the fourth on May 1st. Due to delayed setting and approving of rates, tax bills are not always issued on time, but an estimated bill will be sent.
If you have not paid your taxes by the due date, you should be prepared to receive a demand notice from the Tax Collector. These will be sent 30-60 days after the first mailing or statutory due date, whichever is appropriate. The demand notice will repeat the tax due from the prior billing and include interest from the due date. In addition, there will be a fee for issuing the demand.
Auto excise tax bills are processed through the Registry of Motor Vehicles and are sent by the Town throughout the year. Your first billing should be received about four months after the registration of your vehicle. Payment is due 30 days from the mailing date.
The census must be mailed out to every resident according to State law. The information obtained is used in projecting State Aid, school and public safety needs, ambulance calls, certification for in-state college tuition, and voting status. The census is also used for the jury list formulation.
It is important that all residents respond to the census. Failure to return the form will result in removal from the registered voters list.
Elected Officers, Boards and Commitees:
The Town has many elected officers, boards, and committees; some of the people from whom you may need assistance are listed on their individual departmental pages (select from the above drop down box and then click the GO button). Please refer to the Annual Town Report for a complete list.