It is time to agree on a state budget and establish an education property tax yield and rate for Vermont.
Towns and cities have done their jobs. Listers have developed, corrected, and lodged their grand lists. have set the appraisal value of real and personal property and have lodged the property inventories. Select and school boards have developed – and voters have adopted – their school and municipal budgets. Town and city clerks have ordered their property tax billing forms. Selectboards and city councils will set their municipal tax rates at meetings in the next two weeks – if they have not already done so – and, under normal circumstances, would send out their tax bills as early as July 2. The law requires at least thirty days notice from date of mailing property tax bills to payment being due. Some towns have due dates for first payment installments as early as August 10.
Today is Friday, June 15, and Vermont has no state budget, no homestead education property tax rate, a default non-residential property tax rate of $1.59 (a five cent increase over last year), no property or income yield per equalized pupil, and no authority for state government to operate or for local governments to send out education property tax bills. We are perilously close to a government shutdown, which will cost the state, local governments, and the residents of Vermont. State Treasurer Beth Pearce has detailed the fallout of Vermont failing to have a budget in place by July 1 – and, shy of that, the threat of no budget, even if one is finalized by June 30.
The ongoing battle rages over the issue of whether to increase homestead or non-resident property tax rates (which are not the same as your property tax bills) to fund education obligations or put surplus money toward writing down long-term obligations for teachers’ retirement. Education Fund obligations include not only the school budgets passed by voters at Town Meeting (who comprised 17.4 percent of registered voters statewide) but also adult basic education, the Community High School of Vermont (Department of Corrections), reappraisal and listing assistance, Flexible Pathways, Current Use reductions in education tax funding, and incentives for consolidating school districts pursuant to Act 46. Compromises to end the impasse have been both suggested and rejected.
Once property tax yields and rates are finalized and the Governor signs them into law, it will take the Department of Taxes at least five days to apply those figures to the statewide grand list, calculate the rates for each municipality, taking into account the common level of appraisal, co-efficient of dispersal, and any “excess spending” that is the result of adopted school budgets.
We are staring down the barrel of July 1, and today’s meeting between the administration and legislative leaders gave no comfort that a resolution to the unfolding crisis is in the offing.
City and town officials need the administration and legislature to agree on a path forward that allows property tax bills to be sent so Vermonters can pay their taxes and fund both their schools and municipalities. The fact that Vermont law ties our hands in the face of their inaction in unacceptable.
Let’s get it done. Now.