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City reappraisal "staggering" to homeowners

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May 28, 2007

By ANDY KIRKALDY

VERGENNES — Vergennes board of listers chairman Mel Hawley told aldermen last week that the effect of the just-completed city-wide reappraisal would be “staggering� on many homeowners, but that the results of the 18-month valuation effort were fair.

Since 1993, the last time the city’s property was reappraised, Hawley said that the value of Vergennes homes has increased at a faster rate than the value of the city’s commercial and industrial properties.

As a result, he said, homeowners have actually been paying a lower percentage of the city’s taxes than they should have been. Now, according to examples Hawley provided aldermen at their May 22 meeting, homeowners could be looking at tax hikes ranging from 4.5 percent to 37.3 percent.

“Residential properties over the past 14 years were paying less than their fair share. So what this is, is actually corrected,� Hawley said. “I know it’s staggering, but it’s correcting inequities that occurred over that 14-year period.�

Property owners should be receiving copies of the preliminary grand list in the mail early this week, and can also go online and click on “REAPPRAISAL – GRAND LIST 2007� on the left side of the city’s home page at www.vergennes.org.

According to figures Hawley provided aldermen on Tuesday Vergennes residential property will provide almost 72 percent of the city’s grand list, up from about 65 percent in 1993.

Meanwhile, the city’s commercial properties’ share will drop from about 19.5 percent to about 17 percent, and the industrial sector’s percentage will decline from about 6.8 percent to 4.3 percent.

At the same time homes are picking up a larger share of the tab, school spending has risen, and Hawley said the new assessments should not take all the blame.

“I wanted to make sure the public was aware it’s not only about reappraisal,� he said.

To show the impact of the reappraisal Hawley provided aldermen with some estimates, using properties owned by city officials, relatives of city officials, and by state representatives Greg Clark and Kitty Oxholm.

Still, in only three of 13 homes did the estimated combined impact of school spending and other factors exceed the reappraisal impact. According to Hawley’s estimates, without the reappraisal the average tax increase on the 13 homes would have been about $144.

After the reappraisal, the average tax increase jumps to roughly $763, according to Hawley’s estimates. Again, according to his figures, the reappraisal will thus be responsible for an average increase of $619 on the 13 homes he provided as examples to aldermen.

For example, according to his estimates:

• The taxes on Hawley’s own home will rise by about $1,131 — $158 due to school spending, $973 due to the reappraisal.

• The taxes on Deputy Mayor Craig Miner’s home will rise $833 — $141 due to school spending, $692 due to the reappraisal.

• The taxes on Clark’s home will rise $551 — $129 due to school spending, $422 due to the reappraisal.

Some homes will see even more dramatic increases — like that of City Manager Renny Perry, whose taxes Hawley estimates may go from $3,444 to $5,764 — because of renovations that are just now being taken into account.

“Some properties that were maintained better over the years would shift within that (residential) category, and (that) would result in more than a 10 percent (increase),� Hawley said.

Hawley said cases like that also highlight a point that city officials and residents should remember: Although the increases may seem sudden, that they are really the product of 14 years of market forces at work.

“One of the things you really shouldn’t lose sight of is the city hasn’t gone through a reappraisal in 14 years. This shift, yes, it impacts everybody kind of overnight. The fact of the matter is that the shift actually occurred over a 14-year period,� Hawley said. “Anything beyond 10 years is a stretch.�

OTHER COUNCIL ACTION

In other business aldermen:

• Were told by Daniels that the first of the “cracker barrel� meetings he promised during his campaign would be held at Kennedy Brothers from 10 to 11 a.m. on June 2. Daniels hopes residents will take advantage of the informal setting to speak freely and let him know what’s on their minds.

• Heard from Perry that the finishing touches would be done on the long-awaited skate park on city land near Vergennes Union Elementary School as soon as the school year is complete. Perry said pavers and fence installers would begin work then. He said the new park oversight committee has met and is seeking quotes for ramps, and will meet again early in June to go over those quotes and start drafting park rules.

• Were told by Perry that MacDonough Drive would be closed for at least another couple weeks while additional test pits were dug and holes drilled down the slope from the roadbed. Perry said engineers want to see if the hillside would support a large retaining wall that could be used to hold the unstable roadbed in place.

• Approved a letter of intent to apply for a grant that could fund 80 percent of the $260,000 cost of putting a sidewalk on the falls side of the Otter Creek bridge. Perry said the city’s share could come from either the city’s Water Tower Fund, which comes from cell phone companies who hang equipment on the tower, or another fund created by Green Mountain Power in exchange for the use of the falls to generate power, neither of which would require tax dollars.

• Awarded former mayor Sue Clark a certificate recognizing her 17 years as the city’s volunteer Green-Up Day coordinator.

• Learned that a potential candidate for a vacancy on the planning commission had decided not to seek the seat. Aldermen said they were still seeking candidates for at least one position on the planning panel, and that they believed another member might step down.

• Declined a request from a yoga business to hold classes on the city green if weather permitted. Aldermen said they were concerned about setting a precedent that would allow commercial use of the park.

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