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Residents question property reappraisal results

PUTNEY—Putney’s recent property reappraisals have left some residents confused and annoyed.

They shared their frustration at the April 22 regular Selectboard meeting, where Tax Lister Kathleen O’Reilly-Lawrence was also in attendance.

The reappraisal process resulted in some landowners receiving notice that their property values went down, but their taxes went up.

Diana Sidebotham was one of them. She told the Selectboard she reached out to “about 13 friends in town,” and found they were “exceedingly puzzled” by the “significant disparities” between land in, and not in, current use; the size of their land; and whether their property taxes increased and by how much.

“Nobody has been able to answer [our questions] with specificity,” she said. “It’s very peculiar."

While Sidebotham claimed that “we’re not coming to the Selectboard for answers, because you don’t have them,” she and the other residents at the meeting did just that.

The Selectboard, O’Reilly-Lawrence, and Town Manager Cynthia Stoddard responded to queries from residents about the legitimacy of the procedure.

The reappraisers’ credentials were questioned, to which the Lister explained the state provides a list of vetted professionals, and towns choose from that.

The computer program used to calculate valuation and property tax was questioned. Stoddard assured the audience that “every town in Vermont, as of last year, uses the same tax assessment software.”

Selectboard Vice-Chair Joshua Laughlin explained the cost per-acre for Putney property “almost doubled,” and while larger volumes in land went down in value in current use, the homestead value went up. “The bigger parcels felt the sting,” he said.

Laughlin said he met with Cy Bailey, property valuation and review district advisor, and assured those present that Bailey said “everything is as it should be.”

“I know that’s not a satisfactory answer,” Laughlin said, but added taxes are “all individual,” and by statute, must be grieved one-by-one, not by class-action.

The first step is to grieve to the Board of Listers, then the Board of Civil Authority (BCA), then to the state, Laughlin explained.

“Every individual parcel was inspected and revalued based on what [the appraisers] found while they were there,” said Stoddard. “If you disagree, then grieve your assessment. There could be an error.”

One possible explanation behind the drastic change in property valuations and taxes, Stoddard said, is that the last appraisal, conducted in 2006, resulted in a ”terrible” land schedule.

The order to reappraise comes from the state, and it’s not really on a timetable, Stoddard told The Commons.

“It was junk, so we had to re-do it,” she said at the Selectboard meeting.

“You as a group are asking for general answers. I can’t give you general answers with specifics,” O’Reilly-Lawrence said. “I can meet with you about your parcel. And that’s what I would recommend.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #304 (Wednesday, May 6, 2015). This story appeared on page D1.

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