Revenue constraints from a limit on tax levy growth are a credit negative for several Massachusetts localities, according to Moody's Investors Service.
Six have hit their ceilings this year and another 12 are close to the threshold, Moody's said in a report Friday. "In comparison, only one municipality in the commonwealth hit its levy ceiling in 2007," said Moody's.
The "levy ceiling" – or 2.5% of fiscal year assessed value – functions as a cap under Massachusetts' complicated, two-tiered process for setting the tax levy for the state's 351 municipalities, said Moody's. The actual tax levy can be smaller than the levy limit if a municipality decides not to increase the tax levy to the levy limit in a given year.
Holyoke, rated A1, Springfield, rated A2 with a positive outlook, Worcester, rated Aa3 with a stable outlook, A1-rated Pittsfield, Aa3-rated West Springfield, and Somerset, rated Aa2 with a stable outlook, have hit the ceiling, according to Moody's.
"In most cases, these communities are at or near the levy ceiling because total assessed value growth has not kept pace with the annual increases in the tax levy," said Moody's.
Of the six, Holyoke and Springfield are the most hard-pressed because they have reached their tax-levy ceilings primarily due to annual declines in assessed value from 2009-13. The other four benefit from excess levy capacity accumulated in previous years when they did not increase the actual tax levy to the maximum levy limit.
The excess levy capacity provides some operating flexibility, according to Moody's.