Ferrisburgh gets tax cut after appeal to state tax department

FERRISBURGH — The Ferrisburgh board of listers saved local taxpayers some cash this spring by appealing to the state Department of Taxes how the town’s real estate was valued by the state — and if all works according to estimates, Ferrisburgh’s overall tax rate may rise by less than 2 percent.
Assistant town clerk Pam Cousino estimated that by persuading state officials to change Ferrisburgh’s common level of assessment (CLA) numbers, the town will have to send the state about $77,000 less in school taxes.
Because a penny on Ferrisburgh’s tax rate raises about $45,000, the change means the town can lower its school tax rate by about 1.7 cents, Cousino said.
A drop of 1.7 cents in a tax rate translates to an annual savings of $34 in property taxes on a home assessed at $200,000.
Board of listers chairman Carl Cole and fellow listers John Bull and Joe Blasius appeal the town’s CLA annually, but usually with not such dramatic results.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time we do gain … a small percentage,” Cole said. In 2008, for example, Ferrisburgh’s appeal raised the CLA from 95.64 to 95.75. 
The CLA measures how close a town’s assessed property values are to true market value. It is an attempt to equalize property values from town to town in order that property taxes are levied fairly across the state.
Before Ferrisburgh’s appeal this spring, the state had Ferrisburgh’s values pegged at 91.41 percent of fair market value. After the appeal, that number jumped 1.12 percent to 92.53. When a town’s values are closer to true market value, state tax officials make a smaller adjustment to tax rates, and taxes are thus lower.
Cole credited Middlebury appraiser Justus DeVries, who has helped Ferrisburgh assess its property for roughly two decades, for catching a tax department calculation error this year — state officials used an out-of-date number for property owned by utilities, such as Green Mountain Power and Comcast.
“We’re very fortunate to have Justus doing it for us,” Cole said.
According to Addison Northwest Supervisory Union estimates made before the CLA adjustment, Ferrisburgh homeowners were looking at a possible education tax increase of 4.4 cents per $100 of property value, or 3.3 percent, to $1.251.
Given the state’s tough fiscal times, lawmakers could change school funding formulas during ongoing debates. But if the assumptions hold from earlier this year, residents could instead be looking at a 2.2 percent increase to about $1.234 in their school tax rate. 
For the owner of a Ferrisburgh home assessed at $200,000 not eligible for school tax relief, that would translate to an additional $54 on an annual tax bill.
With a level-funded town budget, Cousino said Ferrisburgh officials expect no change this year in the municipal portion of the town’s tax rate — about 26.7 cents in 2008-2009.
Together, Ferrisburgh’s municipal and projected school rates add up to almost exactly $1.50, which would mean the town’s overall 2009-2010 rate could end up increasing about 2.64 cents, or 1.8 percent, over the 2008-2009 rate.

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