Panton board sets taxes, town meeting on cupola

PANTON — Panton selectmen at a Thursday special meeting adopted a 2011-2012 tax rate and set a Sept. 7 special meeting at which residents can decide the fate of Panton Town Hall’s leaky cupola.
The town’s new municipal tax rate is 64.51 cents, an increase of almost 12 cents from the 2010-11 rate of 52.70.
But Panton selectboard chairman John Viskup said the town tax rate — the portion of the overall rate that pays to maintain town roads and funds administrative costs — is roughly in line with the rates from 2008-09 and 2009-10, which were roughly 59 and 61 cents.
“We got a heck of a break last year,” Viskup said.
Viskup said, however, that selectmen in March 2010 overestimated the revenue side of the town budget, and this year’s rate had to be set higher to make up for the shortfall.
“The budget this year really only increased $12,000 over last year,” Viskup said. “We set our tax rate (last year) considerably lower than it should have been.”
Voters also at a June special approved an extra $26,000 for repairs to Town Hall’s leaky roof, a decision that added about 3 cents to the town rate, according to Panton officials.
With the town rate now set, the full rate, including school taxes, has also been determined.
The school portion of Panton’s property taxes changed little for Panton’s homeowners: The residential rate went from $1.5769 to $1.5811, or about four-tenths of a cent.
Panton’s new overall residential tax rate is therefore, $2.2262, an increase of 12.23 cents.
That hike translates to a tax increase of about $245 for a home assessed at $200,000, assuming its owners are not eligible for state rebates.
In the year for which data is most recently available, 73 percent of Panton’s households qualified for property tax relief that averaged more than $1,700 per household.
Non-residential property owners in Panton will take more of a hit, however: Their school rate is rising from $1.6704 to $1.7402.
Combined with the town tax rate, non-residential property owners in Panton will see their rate jump by about 19 cents to $2.3853.
That increase translates to roughly $380 per $200,000 of assessed value.
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 measure, based on state-collected data, the ratio of towns’ assessments to the fair market value of towns’ 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.
Selectmen also picked 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 7, as the date for a town-wide special meeting to vote on a special article on whether selectmen should borrow up to $40,000 to preserve Town Hall’s cupola.
Viskup said the question has become a sensitive one in Panton. The $26,000 voters approved in June, plus another roughly $6,000, would fix Town Hall’s leaky roof — but not the cupola, the biggest culprit in the leaks. Those funds would include installing new roofing where the cupola once stood, he said.
The additional $40,000 — selectmen would borrow money not to exceed that amount and pay it back over two years — would, in the wording approved by the board,  fix “the cupola and supporting structures.”
Viskup said the article was kept simple and does not explain what would happen to the cupola if not approved, but the ample time for discussion on Sept. 7 would include representatives of The McKernon Group design and construction company to explain the alternative.
“That would be taking the cupola down and roofing over the space and repairing the roof correctly,” he said.
Given the tough choice between preserving an original portion of the building and spending more money after a tax increase, Viskup said selectmen believe voters should make the call.
“The voters need to make a decision,” he said. “That’s how it should be.”
Town officials envision Town Hall as a visitor and fully functional community center with a kitchen and bathrooms, but Viskup said none of those long-range plans are possible without first buttoning up the building.
“We can’t put this off any more,” he said. “Any further delay, and we won’t have a building left to repair, and it needs to be done correctly one way or the other.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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