February 15, 2007
By ANDY KIRKALDY
VERGENNES — Residents in the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union towns of Addison, Ferrisburgh and Panton are looking at increases of only one or two cents on their school tax rates if they approve school budgets as proposed, according to ANwSU estimates.
Meanwhile, Waltham residents may see a five-cent drop in their school taxes, but all bets are off in Vergennes: The city is just completing a reappraisal of all of its properties, making it virtually impossible to guess where its school tax rate will end up.
In all, ANwSU officials are happy to pass on some good news, for which they credit accurate property assessments as well as spending increases they believe are responsible.
“I really feel like we don’t have a lot to complain about this year,” said ANwSU business manager Donna Corcoran.
All five towns would share the cost of a proposed $8.05 million Vergennes Union High School budget that would boost spending there by 5.7 percent.
Vergennes, Panton and Waltham residents will vote in March on a $3.4 million Vergennes Union Elementary School budget that would raise spending over the current level by 4.7 percent.
The Addison Central School board has proposed a 4.4 percent increase to about $1.75 million, and the Ferrisburgh Central School board has proposed a 5.6 percent increase to roughly $2.63 million.
Corcoran also noted that this year would be the first that school tax rebates will be directly accounted for on tax bills, not mailed out separately.
“It’s going to be right on the school tax bill. (Taxpayers are) going to see something completely different,” she said.
Corcoran also said that not many realize how many taxpayers are eligible for and take advantage of the rebate program: More than half of residential property owners in each of the five ANwSU towns received rebates in 2006. (See related story.)
The ANwSU estimates assume that the legislature accepts the 90-cent base statewide education tax rate recommended by education officials; in past years lawmakers have done so. That rate would be five cents lower than a year ago.
The estimates do not include the portion of the tax rates needed to support municipal spending in each town. Selectmen in Addison, Ferrisburgh, Panton and Waltham have proposed some spending increases in general fund and highway budgets that are not reflected in these numbers. Vergennes aldermen will set the city’s municipal budget in late June.
According to the ANwSU estimates, Addison residents not eligible for a rebate are looking at a one-cent hike to their school tax rate, from $1.16 to $1.17 per $100 of assessed property value. That one-cent increase in Addison would translate to $10 per $100,000 of assessed value.
A major factor in keeping the town’s school tax rate low is Addison’s recent town-wide reassessment. According to state figures, Addison’s assessments are above fair market value, and thus the town’s “common level of appraisal” (CLA) adjustment lowers the tax rate.
The CLA is a mechanism to equalize property values among the state’s towns before taxes are assessed. It dates back to before Act 60 and was retained to make tax collection fairer among towns’ whose assessments differ in accuracy.
If a town’s values are low, the CLA raises tax rates. If a town’s values are high, the CLA lowers rates.
According to the ANwSU estimates, Ferrisburgh residents not eligible for a rebate are looking at a two-cent increase to their school tax rate, from $1.28 to $1.30 per $100 of property value.
That two-cent increase in Ferrisburgh translates to $20 per $100,000 of assessed value.
Ferrisburgh is saving some money this year compared to 2006: The town has a smaller VUHS assessment due to a lower percentage of the school’s students from the town, and also a year ago Ferrisburgh funded a $110,000 special article to make improvements to FCS.
The town’s property assessments are at about 100 percent of fair market value and there is only a small CLA adjustment.
According to the ANwSU estimates, Panton residents not eligible for a rebate are looking at a two-cent increase to their school-tax rate, from $1.38 to $1.40.
That two-cent increase in Panton translates to $20 per $100,000 of assessed value.
That modest increase is largely being driven by a CLA adjustment, because there is little change in other factors such as spending or student count. Without the adjustment Panton would have a $1.31 rate.
According to the ANwSU estimates, Waltham residents not eligible for a rebate are looking at a five-cent drop in their school-tax rate, from $1.33 to $1.28.
That five-cent decrease in Waltham translates to a savings of $50 per $100,000 of assessed value.
Waltham has a lower VUHS assessment, and its CLA also lowered its tax rate.
Although final numbers cannot be estimated in Vergennes because of a reappraisal that should be complete by May, a tax hike looks likely, Corcoran said. The city’s cost per pupil, a factor in the state’s calculations, is rising, and Vergennes was helped a year ago by a one-time adjustment in student population numbers, she said.
If no reappraisal were done, the city’s property values would only be at about 56 percent of fair market value, and the resulting CLA adjustment would boost the city’s tax rate from $2.06 to $2.32.
Corcoran noted, however, that those high rates should be taken with a grain of salt, considering they are based on extremely low assessments that will be corrected this spring.
“Once the reappraisal is done, they’ll be right in line with everybody else,” she said.