Reappraisal completed in St. George (6/11/09)

Average value increases by 36 percent

June 11, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Property values in St. George increased by a relatively modest 36 percent over the past decade, according to a new townwide reappraisal.

Assessor Bill Hinman recently completed a reappraisal of all 320 properties in St. George. The state requires appraised values to keep pace with market prices.

The comparatively small increase in overall values reflects the large number of mobile homes in St. George, Hinman said. The rise is much smaller than the double-digit annual inflation in assessed property values recorded in Williston and other Chittenden County towns in the years leading up to the current recession.

“The reason things rose less than in Williston is the large proportion of mobile homes,” Hinman said. “They make up about half of the town’s housing.”

The average value of all mobile homes in St. George showed no increase over the past 10 years, the reappraisal found. Hinman said many of the older units actually decreased in value.

Meanwhile, single-family homes rose an average of 37 percent, according to Hinman. The handful of commercial properties in St. George increased 24 percent. And open land, which has become increasingly scarce in Chittenden County, jumped 53 percent.

Aside from stagnant mobile home prices, Hinman said the other notable trend in St. George was a spike in valuations for mid-priced, single-family homes, typically small ranches.

He said values for those types of homes increased considerably more than houses on the other ends of the spectrum. Smaller single-family homes tend to be in high demand because of the dearth of affordable housing in Chittenden County.

“That’s the nature of the market,” Hinman said. “If you look at Williston, the same thing happened.”

Sonny Paronto lives in one of those ranches, a three-bedroom home on Vermont 2A built in the 1960s. The appraised value increased from $132,100 to $223,300, a 69 percent spike.

“I don’t mind paying my share,” he said. “But good God, a $91,000 increase?”

Paranto questioned whether he’d actually be able to sell his home for the appraised price given the state of the economy. He plans to appeal, though based on previous experience with the town’s appraisal process he felt a big reduction was unlikely.

As of Tuesday, 33 property owners had requested grievance hearings. Hinman said that number is about average given the number of properties involved.

St. George Selectboard member Philip Gingrow said residents should understand that an increase in property value does not necessarily mean a property tax hike.

Tax rates are in part based on the revenue needed to fund town and school budgets, which are approved by voters, and the grand list, the total value of all property. The reappraisal will increase the grand list and — if town and school spending don’t rise — lower the tax rate.

Whether or not taxes rise for any given property owner depends largely on how much the value has changed. In general, taxes will decrease for properties that went up less then the town average, remain stable for those with an average increase and rise for those that jumped by a larger-than-average amount.

Tax bills are also influenced by the state’s complex education funding formula. Act 68 in part determines the level of property taxes needed to fund schools and provides rebates for lower- and middle-class homeowners.

St. George’s reappraisal was triggered by an increasing disparity between market prices and appraised values. The state requires towns to conduct a reappraisal when a measure called the common level of appraisal falls below 80 percent. St. George’s CLA was 63 percent before the reappraisal.

The increase in property values in St. George is considerably smaller than those seen in other Chittenden County towns. Williston’s latest reappraisal upped residential values by 43 percent. But that increase occurred during just a four-year period ending in 2007.

Gingrow acknowledged that rising values might seem jarring amid the severe recession. But he noted that Vermont has not experienced the meltdown experienced in some parts of the country where foreclosures are common and home prices have plummeted. And he said there’s no telling what might happen in the future.

We’re starting to see values go down, but not so much as Vermont as other places,” Gingrow said. “I think what people have to understand is we don’t have crystal balls.”