Northwestern county towns to see level school tax rates
By ANDY KIRKALDY
VERGENNES — Residential school tax rates in two of the five Addison Northwest Supervisory Union towns are expected to drop, according to estimates prepared by the ANwSU office, while homeowners’ rates in two other union towns are projected to rise by less than 3 cents.
Only in Addison, where unexpected costs during this school year have created a $75,000 deficit at Addison Central School, do ANwSU officials estimate the residential school tax rate will increase significantly, by about 13 cents.
Overall, ANwSU business manager Donna Corcoran said officials are happy to release the estimates, which assume residents pass all four proposed district school budgets on Town Meeting Day.
“It feels pretty good to put these out,” Corcoran said.
The projections do not include the portion of town tax rates necessary to support town office and road spending, which are projected to rise in the five union towns. They also assume the statewide school tax rate will be 87 cents, the last recommended figure by state officials, not the 85-cent rate first put out by the tax department in early December.
The communities looking at possible residential school tax rate decreases are Vergennes, where the estimate calls for a drop of 0.09 cent to $1.259 per $100 of property value, and Ferrisburgh, where officials project a drop of 0.08 cent to $1.267.
According to the ANwSU estimates:
• Panton homeowners are looking at an increase of 1.4 cents to $1.279.
• Waltham homeowners are looking at an increase of 2.9 cents to $1.294.
• Addison homeowners are looking at an increase of 13.1 cents to $1.423.
Addison Central School faced a series of unexpected challenges that created its deficit. Its roof needed patching, its driveway needed a culvert, and a series of minor building issues needed extra attention. Fuel to keep buses running also cost more than anticipated. The school also could not find a speech pathologist to hire, and the board had to contract those services, a more expensive option that added $29,000 to overall costs.
The ACS board has proposed raising spending by about 3.8 percent to roughly $1.82 million in the next fiscal year.
“The driver for the tax rate in Addison is a deficit incurred last year, which effectively reduces their revenue,” Corcoran said. “Even though the budget increase is very modest, when you decrease the revenue, that increases the cost per pupil. And that’s what created the change in Addison.”
The mostly stable rates elsewhere in ANwSU come despite other proposed budget increases that range from 2.4 to 5.4 percent:
• The Ferrisburgh Central School board proposed a $2.76 million budget that calls for a 4.9 percent spending increase.
• The Vergennes Union Elementary School board has proposed increasing spending by 2.4 percent to $3.48 million.
• The Vergennes Union High School board has proposed a 5.4 percent spending hike to a little less than $8.5 million.
The two major reasons those increases are not translating into tax hikes are that the towns’ property tax assessments are all reasonably up to date, and that the state adjusts its allowable per-pupil spending limit upward every year to account for inflation.
Corcoran said this year state officials bumped up that per-pupil spending number by 3.5 percent. Given inflationary pressures from sources like energy prices, health insurance and unfunded federal mandates, she said ANwSU boards’ worked to control spending kept budgets closely in line with the state limitations.
“I think it’s just the conscientious budgeting efforts of our boards,” Corcoran said. “Our budget increases are low.”
Act 130, the school funding law that passed a year ago, has changed how tax rates are calculated. The major new wrinkle, double budget votes for schools that are spending in excess of the state per-pupil average, will not take effect until 2009.
But town and school reports do look different this spring. Previously, spending at all levels, from kindergarten through 12th grade, was divided by towns’ total student count to create per-pupil spending averages.
As of this year, Act 130 requires that those calculations be made on a school-by-school basis, and then added together to create one rate. Corcoran said the goal was to allow residents to identify what impact individual schools were having on tax rates.
For example, in Addison, ACS — largely because of the deficit — is contributing 78.4 cents, and VUHS is contributing 63.9 cents, toward the overall projected rate of $1.423 per $100 of property value.
“It’s to make it more transparent what each school is contributing to the tax rate,” she said. “That was the intent.”