We find ourselves in agreement with the sentiments expressed by local listers and assessors regarding Vermont House Bill 480. The bill would require towns to reappraise all property every six years and would cause those reappraisals to be done by the Vermont Department of Taxes.
This bill is problematic – at best and a nightmare at worst.
Because of the pandemic, Vermont’s real estate market soared and did so until almost every available unit in the state had been sold, many for cash. That meant that home values (based on fair market value) were far above local appraised values which caused the Common Levels of Appraisal in dozens and dozens of Vermont towns to fall below 85% of fair market value.
Traditionally, that would trigger a reappraisal and traditionally, it only impacted eight to 15 or so towns a year, something the state’s professional appraisers would handle.
But just because a town’s CLA is off doesn’t mean that the function of the CLA (which is to equalize education and property taxes so that every one pays their fair share), is broken because it is not. The CLA still works. If a town’s Grand List is at 85% of fair market value, 15% is added to it (and each property) to make sure each taxpayer pays appropriately.
That’s just the math, the more troubling part of this proposal is how it usurps local participation and oversight into the process of accurately and fairly valuing properties in a community.
Without this bill, local towns with their listers and appraisers would contract with an appraisal firm to reappraise all properties in the town. Those same town officials then work with the contractors, provided oversight and input based on critical, historical local knowledge to make sure the new updated Grand List accurately reflects property values.
The bill, as originally written, allows local towns to reject or amend or edit the work of state appraisers, but as the bill is written now, it does not do that. Why shut out those with the experience and awareness of our towns from the process? Why not continue to use their expertise and understanding?
As one assessor suggested, this bill is a solution looking for a problem. That’s accurate.