The cherry sheet, known originally for the color of the paper it was printed on, is the official notification from the Mass. Department of Revenue of the upcoming fiscal year's state aid and assessments to cities, towns, and regional school districts. For towns and cities to get their fair share of state money, local assessment practices must be standardized. Before 1974, this was not the case.
The Town of Sudbury’s “Residential Exemption Report” tells the story:
“The Supreme Judicial Court’s (SJC) 1974 landmark decision Town of Sudbury v. Commissioner of Corporations and Taxation found in favor of Sudbury’s contention that there were wide variations in local assessing practices, and that the Commissioner of Revenue was not enforcing the standard, thereby resulting in unfair local aid distribution. The SJC decision in the Sudbury case held that the Commissioner had both the power and the duty to direct assessors to maintain full and fair cash valuations.
The effect of the Sudbury decision in communities practicing disproportionate assessing was to shift the tax burden from commercial, industrial and personal properties back to residential properties. In 1978, voters approved an amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution [Article CXII], which authorized the Legislature to classify real property into as many as four classes.
In 1979, the General Court passed legislation authorizing the use of differential tax rates provided a community was certified as assessing its property at full and fair cash value. Chapter 797 of the Acts of 1979 § 12 amended Chapter 59 by inserting § 5c which established the Residential Exemption. The determination to implement differential tax rates is a local option that is made each year by the selectmen in a town or by the mayor and city council in a city. "
For understanding how the assessors establish full and fair cash values, the International Association of Assessing Officers has prepared “For the Property Owner Who Wants to Know.”