October 26, 2014

Lister race gives voters rare choice

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Contest emerges for three-year term

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Though elected, listers quietly provide oversight rather than create policy-making controversy.

Listers oversee property assessments and hear property owners' appeals. Members of Williston's three-person Board of Listers occasionally appraise individual properties but mostly watch over the work done by town staff. At least one lister is up for re-election each year, but contested seats are uncommon.

This year, however, a race has emerged, albeit in part because of an accident in timing. Linda Ladd, an incumbent seeking her third three-year term, is running against Charles Coney, a retired accountant and former real estate broker. Gerald Huetz is running uncontested for a two-year term.

Ladd said she thought she was going to move and told as much to Dick Ransom, the town's assistant assessor. Ransom mentioned the potential open seat when he went to inspect Coney's property. Ransom said he's always on the lookout for lister candidates, and it appeared at the time that Coney would simply fill the vacancy. But then Ladd's plans to move fell through and the contest was on.

Though she'd like to continue to serve, Ladd said she is resigned to the possibility of losing the seat.

"It's been a great ride, and if it comes to an end, it comes to an end," she said.

Coney said he did not set out to unseat the incumbent. He just wanted to become more involved in the community and continue using his accounting and real estate skills.

Coney moved to Williston in 2005. He is a retired certified public accountant with nearly 20 years of experience. He has also worked as a real estate broker and supervised two Coldwell Banker offices. He currently works part-time at the Williams-Sonoma store in Burlington.

Ladd grew up in Williston and has lived here for most of her life. She is employed by the Vermont Center for Geographic Information, a Waterbury-based nonprofit that provides computer mapping tools and services. She has been a lister for the past six years.

Listers have no policy-making duties, making it tough for voters to choose candidates based on issues. This race, therefore, seems to boil down to experience and background.

Ladd points to her six years as lister and intimate knowledge of Williston as a longtime resident.

"My advantage is that I've been there before," she said.

Coney said his experience as a CPA and real estate broker makes him a good candidate.

"I probably don't have the visibility (of Ladd) but I'm qualified," he said.

Listers perform a key oversight role, periodically reviewing property values and hearing grievances from property owners. The job is especially important now with Williston in the middle of a town-wide reappraisal.

This reappraisal is a statistical analysis rather than a door-to-door inspection of each home and business. But regardless of the method, the idea is to make sure all homes and businesses are accurately valued so property taxes are equitable.

That is a big job in Williston, which for a town of roughly 8,200 has an unusually large tax base because of an outsized commercial sector. According to Ransom, the town has nearly 4,000 properties with a collective value of more than $1 billion.

Ransom said the last contest for lister he could remember was in 1995, when he ran for the position.

"We have three very good candidates for two positions," he said. "I'm glad to see people are interested. It's just unfortunate (the contest) turned out to be someone I respect against someone I really like."

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