February 20, 2019

Town appeals CLA result

State determination calls for 6 cent property tax hike

By Jason Starr

Observer staff

The Vermont Department of Taxes’ annual equalization study of Williston property values shows a 4 percent drop in the town’s common level of appraisal, requiring a property tax increase of 6 cents per $100 of assessed value for Williston property owners.

The Williston Selectboard appealed the result Tuesday.

Williston Assessor Bill Hinman said the outcome of the state study was skewed by the 2015 sale of the Fairfield Inn on Route 2A. In a letter to the Division of Property Valuation and Review, he asked the state to disregard that sale in its evaluation, which would bring the common level of appraisal closer to 100 percent and minimize the property tax impact.

The state study determines the market value of properties in an effort to equalize education tax contributions statewide. The study evaluates property sales over a three-year period to determine market value then compares that to the assessed value towns use to collect property taxes. The result is a common level of appraisal percentage assigned to each Vermont municipality.

After its equalization study in December, the state assigned a common level of appraisal of 95 percent for Williston, four percentage points lower than last year’s result of 99 percent.

Upon investigation, Hinman pinpointed the $8 million sale of the Fairfield three years ago as having “undue influence” on the study. The sale is roughly equal to the cumulative value of every other commercial property sale in town, he said.

“It totally skews what that ratio looks like,” he said.

The state evaluation is set up to disregard one abnormally large sale. The $90 million sale of Maple Tree Place in 2016 was also in the three-year evaluation period and was disregarded in the evaluation.

Williston officials are urging the state to disregard the Fairfield Inn sale as well.

“The state has shown a willingness to consider that,” Hinman said.

The Division of Property Valuation and Review has 30 days to respond to the appeal, either with a change to the common level of appraisal or by scheduling an appeal hearing for town officials to present its case to division acting director Jill Remick.

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