State may offer taxpayers a break

By Tom Gresham

Observer staff

School officials say the impending hike in the school property tax rate has a number of causes beyond the budget hike.

The current projected budget, which increases spending by 5.9 percent, would produce an estimated 11-cent jump in the school property tax rate, according to School Board Chairwoman Marty Sundby. She said a firmer fix on the tax rate was expected at tonight’s 5 p.m. board meeting.

Chittenden South Supervisory Union Superintendent Brian O’Regan said a major factor in the tax rate increase is the town’s common level of appraisal, which the state uses to measure the gap between actual and appraised propery values. The number falls as property values rise, thus increasing the tax rate.

In addition, taxpayers are beginning to pay back bonds on the Champlain Valley Union High School construction project. Finally, school district revenue is down by about $300,000.

O’Regan said the revenue reductions can be traced to less federal grant funding and less tuition from St. George, which is sending a decreasing number of students to Williston schools.

Changes in the state education tax rate, however, could offset much of the pending local tax increase. Gov. Jim Douglas recently announced that the statewide school property tax rate would be reduced by 3 cents. He has since said he will ask legislators for a further reduction in the rate.