January 22, 2007
By ANDY KIRKALDY
ADDISON — The town of Addison on Dec. 8 again won in court against farmers Mark and Paul Boivin, who for more than a decade have battled with Addison unsuccessfully — at one point all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court — about the town’s property tax assessments on their 467-acre No-Mon-Ne dairy farm.
In addition to winning the 2003 tax case in last month’s ruling, the town of Addison also prevailed in two earlier court cases in which the Boivins challenged the 1996 and 2000 valuations of their Goodrich Corners Road farm.
And the Boivins aren’t done in court yet. Before the Dec. 8 rule, they appealed the town’s 2006 assessment on the largest of the three parts of their farm despite their past losses in court; that latest Addison Superior Court tax case is now in the discovery phase, Mark Boivin said on Thursday. The Boivins are not appealing the value of one 80-acre part of their farm, and last year successfully had the town reduce the value on another 98-acre portion of their farm.
Boivin, who has represented the family in court in the most recent tax cases, maintained that Addison’s assessment of farm property in town was closer to the mark in 2006 than in previous townwide appraisals. He said they are now “10 or 20 percent over value,” but were previously “155 percent of value” at which he believes they should be assessed.
But on Dec. 8 Addison Superior Court Judge Matthew Katz disagreed with Boivin’s calculations and ruled for the town in the Boivins’ appeal of their 2003 taxes on their entire farm.
In fact, Katz raised the town’s 2003 valuation of about $583,000 on the No-Mon-Ne Farm to about $636,000. The Boivins had argued that in 2003 the farm was worth $457,500.
In his ruling Katz wrote emphatically. He described the work done by the professional appraiser hired by the town, Michael O’Brien, as “very thorough,” and criticized the Boivins for attacking O’Brien’s conclusions as not being made by a farmer.
Katz wrote that “there is no doubt that the keen eye of an experienced dairy farmer would probably add a measure of discernment to O’Brien’s efforts. Nevertheless, his otherwise persuasive analysis should not be dismissed because it comes only from an experienced appraiser, rather than the joint effort of such a professional plus a dairy farmer. We must remember that, in addition to not being farmers, appraisers are also not architects, engineers, electricians, (or) plumbers.”
Katz also questioned Mark Boivin’s qualifications to use a statistical technique called “regression analysis” to value the No-Mon-Ne Farm, and concluded that Mark Boivin’s use of that approach to value real estate was “not the foundation for a reliable finding of fact.”
The Boivins did not appeal Katz’s Dec. 8 decision to Vermont Supreme Court, but on Dec. 29 they filed a motion asking Katz to reconsider his decision. In that filing they asked Katz to set their 2003 assessment, which will also apply to 2004 and 2005 tax bills, closer to the town’s original valuation. They based that request on new property sales data not available when values were first established.
The Boivins’ Dec. 29 filing requests that the court use the new information “in the interest of justice and equity,” and said the result will be appraisals that “approximate the values” recommended by O’Brien. The Boivins also cited Addison’s 2006 townwide reappraisal, which pegs the value of the three parcels at $510,600.
That Dec. 8 legal setback was just the latest for the Boivins’ tax appeals in court.
On April 29, 2003, Judge Helen Toor’s Addison Superior Court ruling went against the Boivins in their appeal of their 2000 tax assessment; she added $15,000 to the No-Mon-Ne Farm’s assessment. Later in the year, the Vermont Supreme Court upheld that ruling.
The Boivins’ appeals of their 1996 tax assessment also reached the Vermont Supreme Court, where they lost in 1999. The Boivins appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear their case.
Boivin said he would not rule out further appeals in the future, although he and his brother would await the outcome of the current cases.
“I don’t look that far ahead,” he said. “I’ll take it one thing at a time.”