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Increase in property-tax rate lower than expected

Budget and grand list calculations are used to determine municipal levy

BRATTLEBORO—Property taxes are going up this year — some of the hike is to pay for the police and fire station projects — but the increase is less than half of what town officials originally anticipated.

“I’m happy to report the results of [the tax-setting] process this year have come in a little better” than town officials previously forecast, said Town Manager Peter B. Elwell.

Brattleboro municipal property taxes for Fiscal Year 2018 are $1.2214 per $100 of assessed valuation. This is an increase of 3.07 cents per $100 of value.

It could have been much worse.

Elwell explained the brief history of the property tax increase at the July 11 regular Selectboard meeting.

When he and last year’s Selectboard initially drew up the FY18 municipal budget in late-winter, they came up with a 6.8 cent increase per $100 of a property’s value.

Through what Elwell attributed as “hard work” from the previous Selectboard, they got the increase down to 5 cents, and their final anticipated increase was 3.5 cents over last year’s rate.

But, he said, once the annual budget and grand list process was complete, the actual raise was a little lower.

How a tax rate is set

Elwell gave a primer on how the municipal property tax rate is set.

The recommended tax rate is driven by two considerations: what the town needs in taxes to support the budget, and the grand list calculation.

In late winter and early spring, the Selectboard, using information supplied by municipal staff, comes up with a proposed budget for the following fiscal year. Then, Representative Town Meeting is tasked with approving the budget — this year, that happened on March 25, and they set the budget at $17,281,841.

Throughout the spring, the town assessor works on the grand list calculation, and completes it around June 1. Then, the Board of Listers holds appeals hearings from property owners seeking adjustments on their parcels’ valuations.

“The Town Assessor, Russell Rice, is responsible for the accuracy of the Grand List. His valuation on any particular parcel is subject to review by the Board of Listers before the Grand List is ‘lodged.’ In statutory terminology, a municipality ‘lodges’ its Grand List when it sends it to the state,” Elwell told The Commons.

“When we know the taxable value of property in town, we know how much we need to collect in taxes. [We] do the math and it identifies what the tax rate is that has to be applied against all the taxable property in town,” Elwell said at the July 11 meeting.

Elwell noted the 3.07 cent increase is in the municipal property tax rate. The state education tax rate is separate, and, he said, it went down since last year. The state-mandated education rates are $1.5976 for homestead properties and $1.4557 for non-residential properties.

Elwell and Selectboard Chair Kate O’Connor reminded taxpayers of two additional components of this year’s tax rate: the assessments for the downtown district and the Tri-Park mobile home complex.

For downtown property owners, the “DID” — Downtown Improvement District — levies an additional 0.1294 per $100 of assessed valuation. The total sum raised — $75,000 — was approved by Representative Town Meeting in March and will go to the designated organization, the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance.

The Tri-Park assessment covers an agreement made between the town and the park’s owners to pay for capital improvements made to the complex “several years ago,” Elwell said. It’s not a property tax, he said, but is based on a property’s value.

“What that translates to in real dollars,” said Elwell, “is the total taxes that will be levied for property owners in Brattleboro homesteads are, for every $100,000 of value [...], a $6.38 tax increase this year, [and] for non-residential property, for every $100,000 of value there will be a 28 cent increase this year.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #419 (Wednesday, August 2, 2017). This story appeared on page A2.

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