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Tying up loose ends

Committee approves revisions to reappraisal process in Town Charter

BRATTLEBORO—Last week, members of the Special Charter Committee approved establishing an Office of Assessment, wrapping up five months of deliberations sparked during February’s special town meeting on the Town Charter.

Town Meeting members formed the committee in February during a Special Town Meeting to draft a recommendation on the Office of Assessment for inclusion in the Town Charter. The committee consisted of Town Meeting representatives, town officials, and representatives from the Board of Listers.

The new Office of Assessment, headed by a qualified assessor appointed by the Town Manager, will carry out duties like performing a townwide property appraisal.

Committee members also clarified that the town assessor or Listers’ office staff cannot serve on the Board of Listers, and decided to continue to give Town Meeting representatives the authority to elect listers.

The board will hear citizen appeals disputing appraisals by the Office of Assessment.

In February, members of the Charter Review Committee presented their suggested revisions for the Town Charter to the Town Meeting members. The body debated over 30 articles for 15 hours in a meeting that stretched across two Saturdays.

Town Meeting representative Leo Barile, concerned with the Charter Review Committee’s recommendations for the Listers office, submitted his own amendment from the floor. After a long debate, the body decided to form the special committee to research and draft a new recommendation.

Barile said he believed the Charter Review Committee’s recommendation took authority away from Town Meeting representatives to approve a townwide appraisal, and gave it to the Selectboard and Assessor. Also, the recommendation included eliminating the Listers’ administrative role.

“[This was] a complicated subject best discussed and approved through the committee process,” said Barile.

He said the draft the special committee will present to meeting members remedied his concerns. This draft, he said, also clarified and streamlined the reappraisal process for Brattleboro.

Town Lister Albert Jerard described the draft as “very satisfactory and an improvement.”

He said the draft “simplifies yet retains” the Board of Listers as an appeals board for citizens, elected by citizens.

If the meeting members approve the committee’s draft, Brattleboro will have a combination of professionals and volunteers in the Listers department, said Jerard.

A professional assessor will have the knowledge necessary to navigate the complicated assessment of Grand Lists and and make “key decisions” regarding commercial property, he added.

Meanwhile, the elected citizens acting as Listers will be able to hear the grievances of their fellow citizens, said Jerard.

He noted that most large Vermont cities follow the combination model of professional assessors and citizen listers. Other larger towns have eliminated the elected listers positions.

Although Jerard said he doubted that the Selectboard and Town Meeting members would disagree on when to launch a townwide appraisal, he felt it “reasonable” to give the meeting members authority over reappraisals.

The Charter Review Commission had drafted its recommendation based on feedback from the Listers Office.

Under Vermont statute, towns can choose to have a charter or not, but the state requires towns with charters to give them a spring cleaning every 15 years. Better access to state and federal funds is one benefit to having a town charter.

Town Meeting members will have an opportunity to review the Office of Assessment draft at a special Town Meeting later this year.

According to Town Attorney Robert Fisher of Fisher & Fisher, there will also be a public meeting before the representative’s final vote at the Annual Town Meeting in March.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #109 (Wednesday, July 13, 2011).

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