December 22, 2014

Proposed budget up 10 percent

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Property reappraisal postponed

By Ben Moger-Williams
Observer staff

A $7.4 million draft operating budget was presented by the town to the Selectboard on Monday night, representing an increase of about 10 percent over last year’s budget. Notable additions to this year’s budget are two new town positions: a clerical position in the Police Department, and an administrative position in the Public Works Department.

Meanwhile, the Town Assessor told the board that the planned statistical reappraisal of town property values was being postponed, due to a leveling off of the housing market.

The proposed property tax rate for the new budget is $0.24 per $100,000 of assessed value, an increase of 33 percent.

The draft budget reflects a snapshot of the town’s needs and revenues right now, but Town Manager Rick McGuire pointed out at the meeting that several things could change in the near future that would add to the budget, and potentially the tax rate.

LANDFILL FUNDS

As proposed, the draft budget includes anticipated money from the Chittenden Solid Waste District – about $300,000. The town has received approximately that much from the District for the past several years as part of the town’s agreement to host a regional landfill. However, over the last few months, many residents have voiced opposition to the proposed landfill, prompting the town to enter into talks with the District to try and buy out of the agreement. If successful, the town would not only not receive money from the District, it would have to pay back millions of dollars to the District.

McGuire and Selectboard member Judy Sassorossi have met with District representatives twice regarding the buy out. Sassorossi said at their meeting on Monday morning the District offered the first hint of the potential payback amount.

“The only number that we’ve heard about is legal fees and engineering costs – $2.8 million,” Sassorossi said. “That’s the first number.”

She said they would meet with the District again in a couple of weeks.

LOCAL OPTIONS TAX

Williston’s 1 percent local options tax is estimated to bring in nearly $2.9 million dollars in Fiscal Year 2008. McGuire reminded the board that beginning Jan. 1, a new state law will take effect as part of a national effort to streamline state sales taxes. The changes include a new 6 percent tax on beer, but no tax on clothing or footwear. The draft budget assumes a $25,000 increase in revenue from the 1 percent local options tax, but that won’t necessarily happen under the new laws, McGuire said.

“Putting this all together, we just have no way of knowing how this is going to affect our revenue source. We’re kind of caught here,” McGuire said. “It could have a dramatic impact on our budget, if we guessed wrong.”

NEW STAFF

A new clerical position for the police, and an administrative position in the Public Works Department have been added to the budget for next year. Police Chief Jim Dimmick also requested two more positions for the police, McGuire said in his budget transmittal letter to the Selectboard, but those were not included. Other future potential staff additions include an assistant in the Town Manager’s office, and additional firefighters to staff an ambulance service. Currently the town is looking into an ambulance study to investigate the need for such a service.

REASSESsMENT POSTPONED

Earlier this year, the board of listers proposed doing a statistical reassessment of property values in Williston, in order to avoid the “sticker shock” that some other communities have faced recently. Some homes in South Burlington and other nearby towns were presented with appraisal increases of 100 percent or more this year.

Traditionally reappraisals happen once every 10 years in order to keep the appraised values of properties in line with the state’s Common Level of Assessment (CLA). The CLA is the relationship between the appraised value of a property and its actual market value. The state requires towns to conduct reappraisals when the CLA falls below 80 percent. Williston’s last full reappraisal was in 2002. However, the listers guessed that a state reappraisal order for Williston was imminent, so they decided to recommend a limited revaluation, only visiting a percentage of homes in town.

Town Assessor Bill Hinman said the listers had decided to start a reappraisal this fall to be proactive.

“What we didn’t know was that the market was going to soften,” he said.

Hinman said between April 1 and Aug. 15, the market increased by about 2 percent, but then from Aug. 15 to October, values decreased by 2 percent.

“Because the values have leveled off, there’s no need to reappraise,” he said.

Recently, some homeowners have expressed worry that the values of their homes would decrease because of the planned landfill off Redmond Road. Hinman declined to speculate as to whether the fall off in the housing market was related to the landfill.

“The listers’ office is aware of the concerns of property owners concerned about the landfill,” Hinman said, “and it continues to monitor market trends which would require action of the listers’ office.”

Hinman said the office has received about 12 landfill-related appeals from Williston property owners.

The board of listers will monitor sales trends and meet again in the spring to discuss the revaluation.

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