February 20, 2019

School budget proposal carries 12 percent tax increase

Appeal of town’s CLA could soften impact

By Jason Starr

Observer staff

The Champlain Valley School Board has approved a $76.8 million budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year that would increase spending by 2.3 percent over the current year and increase the tax rate for Williston property owners by an estimated 12 percent.

Using an example of a $300,000 home, the tax increase would amount to an additional $507 in annual property taxes — $169 for every $100,000 of assessed value.

Williston voters will consider the proposal on Town Meeting Day, March 6. Their votes will be aggregated with votes across the district — including Charlotte, Hinesburg, Shelburne and St. George — to determine if the budget passes.

Williston’s tax increase is subject to change, however, because the town has appealed its Common Level of Appraisal (CLA) determination resulting from the Vermont Department of Taxes’ annual equalization study. The study determines the ratio of the assessed value and market value of properties in an effort to equalize education tax contributions statewide.

The tax increase in each of the district’s towns varies from 7 percent in Shelburne to 12 percent in Williston based on the towns’ various CLA determinations. The increase is highest in Williston because the town’s CLA dropped by 4 percent.

Town Assessor Bill Hinman believes the CLA determination was improperly skewed by an $8 million hotel sale in 2015. In his appeal, he asked the state to disregard that sale, which would reduce the drop in CLA and soften the spike in property taxes.

Hinman said Tuesday he expects a ruling from the Division of Property Valuation and Review to come before voters go to the polls. However, if the town disagrees with the decision, the case could draw out into the spring, he said, leaving the tax impact unresolved at Town Meeting Day.

Even before factoring in each town’s CLA, the school district’s budget carries an estimated 7 percent tax increase, taking the tax rate from $1.42 per $100 of assessed value to $1.52.

Amanda Marvin, one of Williston’s three representatives on the school board, noted that most of the tax increase is due to pressure on the state’s education fund.

“While the (tax increase) is pretty high, we can’t control very much of that at all,” she said during the board’s Jan. 23 meeting, before the board unanimously approved the budget proposal. “If you are upset about it, speak to your state legislators. Voting down the budget is not going to get us anywhere.

“We’ve done our work as the school board,” she continued, highlighting the 2.3 percent spending increase. “Talk to your state legislators so they do their work.”

The spending increase amounts to roughly $1.7 million, about half of which is tied to the ongoing renovations at Williston Central School.

The school district will hold its annual meeting at 6 p.m. Feb. 22 in Room 140 at Champlain Valley Union High School before reconvening for ballot voting March 6. The 12-day gap was installed last year when the district was in the middle of consolidating, and working around the annual meetings of its seven forming districts. The board has agreed to hold its annual meeting on the Monday night before the Tuesday of town meeting next year.

Voters at the Feb. 22 meeting will determine by voice vote whether to consolidate the capital reserve funds of the forming districts into a new reserve fund for construction needs. If consolidated, the fund would have about $1.1 million in it, according to Champlain Valley School District Chief Operations Officer Jeanne Jensen.

On March 6, in addition to the budget proposal, voters will also be asked to approve borrowing $485,000 for six new school buses and approve the use of $819,000 left over from a school building improvement project in Shelburne for various upgrades in other school buildings, including a replacement of valves and controls in the heating system at Williston’s Allen Brook School.

The school board plans to hold an informational meeting on the budget at 7 p.m. March 5 at Williston Central School, to coincide with the Town of Williston’s annual meeting.

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