Panton eyes tax hike, aging town hall

PANTON — Panton selectmen on Tuesday called for a special meeting on this Thursday, the 28th, at which they expect to set the town’s 2011-12 tax rate and hope to set a date for another special meeting — that one a town-wide gathering to decide the fate of the cupola atop Panton Town Hall.
The tax rate might be an easier issue at the Thursday meeting set to begin at 7 p.m., although the result could be a bit painful, said selectboard chairman John Viskup.
“We are looking at a considerable increase because we were under-funded in the last couple years,” Viskup said.
The town’s March annual report estimated the town rate — that needed to maintain roads and operate town offices — at 61.04 cents, up by almost nine cents from the past year’s town rate of 52.70 cents.
On June 28, a handful of residents at another special meeting called by selectmen backed adding $26,000 to the budget approved on Town Meeting Day. That money was earmarked to repair Town Hall’s leaky roof.
Town Treasurer M’Lissa Dayton said that extra money would add another 3 cents to the town rate, bringing the increase to almost 12 cents.
Selectmen also initially sought voter approval on June 28 to borrow $40,000 to retire an expected deficit. But they learned they did not need voter approval to do so, according to meeting minutes, and they also expect some Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to reduce that deficit in the months to come.
Still, they will be looking at some sort of deficit — and a tax hike — when they sit down on Thursday and set the rate, even though Viskup said there is essentially no new spending.
“We’re not happy about it, and it isn’t because we increased spending,” Viskup said.
Every penny on the tax rate adds $10 per $100,000 of assessed value, or $20 on a $200,000 home.
As far as the school portion of property taxes goes, Panton’s homeowners will see little change: The residential rate went from $1.5769 to $1.5811, or about four-tenths of a cent.
Non-residential property owners in Panton will take a bit of a hit, however: Their school rate is rising from $1.6704 to $1.7402, meaning about a $70 tax increase per $100,000 of value.
This past year’s residential tax rate in Panton was $2.1039, while the non-residential rate was $2.1974.
Panton’s rates are higher than those in other Addison Northwest Supervisory Union towns because its Common Level of Appraisal (CLA) figure is lower. CLAs are based on state-collected data and the ratio of towns’ assessments to the fair market value of property.
CLAs in Addison, Ferrisburgh, Vergennes and Waltham are all at least 90 percent of fair market value, while Panton’s CLA is about 78 percent.
The rising municipal rate is providing the backdrop for the discussion of what to do about the cupola, the biggest problem for Town Hall’s leaky roof.
Panton officials have been wrestling for years with what to do with their deteriorating building and how to pay for it, including making two unsuccessful attempts for federal grants to pay for a makeover of the structure into a visitor and community center. That makeover would also have cured its leaks and structural problems.
Viskup said now the time has come for the roof to be fixed to protect the building.
“We’ve got to act. The roof is leaking. Something has got to be done,” he said.
The issue is fixing the leaks that are caused by or part of building’s cupola would cost more than twice as much as simply removing it. Viskup said the $26,000 that voters approved on June 28, plus another roughly $6,000, would repair the roof.
But fixing the leaks, including those related to the cupola, would mean borrowing up to another $40,000.
Selectmen before Thursday’s meeting want to double-check the legality and come up with the proper wording, but they intend to schedule a meeting to let voters decide an article that would authorize the board to borrow that amount for cupola repair.
Meanwhile, Viskup said he wants residents to understand taxes will be going up already.
“I hope the voters will be aware there will be a tax increase in town before they address the issue of the cupola,” he said. “If they want to spend the money, I’m all for keeping the cupola … If you want to keep the landmark for future generations, we should certainly consider that.”
Viskup said selectmen understand there are already strong feelings on both sides of the question, and board members believe the entire town should have the chance to decide.
“It’s expensive to retain the cupola. But if it’s what the town wants, it’s their choice,” he said. “We’ll do whatever they desire.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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