Bristol tax rate inches up; board nixes filing surcharge

BRISTOL — At a Monday meeting, the Bristol selectboard set 2011-2012 property tax rates that rose a few percentage points for each type of property.
The residential tax rate for homes outside the police district is $2.1042 per $100 in property value, which marks an increase of 3.05 percent from last year’s rate. The non-residential rate for properties outside the police district is $2.1984 per $100 — a 1.18 percent increase from last year.
That means that for a Bristol home outside the police district valued at $200,000, the residential property tax will go up about $128 from last year.
Owners of property in the police district must pay an extra 26.5 cents per $100, which is a 3.28 percent decrease from last year. The rate is representative of a police department budget that features 7 percent less in spending than it did in the previous year.
The total property tax rates for properties in the police district are $2.3692 for residential properties — a 2.34 percent increase from last year — and $2.4634 per $100 for non-residential properties — a 0.7 percent increase.
Property tax rates are broken into education and municipal tax rates. The education rate makes up the bulk of Bristol’s tax rate, coming in at $1.5176 for residents — a 2.64 percent increase from last year — and $1.6118 for non-residents — a 0.11 percent increase from last year.
The Bristol municipal rate rose 4.11 percent to 58.66 cents, which town officials said is due primarily to payment of the bond that funded last year’s Holley Hall restoration project.
In 2010, the Vermont Legislature suspended the requirement that residential property owners file homestead declarations annually — the declaration differentiates residential and non-residential properties for the purposes of property tax levies. Once a homestead is declared, it doesn’t need to be done on a yearly basis anymore.
But there was one little caveat to this new policy: An increased penalty was set for filing a property that is not a homestead — such as a secondary residence by a non-resident, or for failing to properly declare a homestead on form HS-122 when a resident files income taxes. A resident may improperly declare a homestead by missing the deadline, or by simply not declaring or accidentally declaring a homestead as a non-residential property.
According to the change in the law, where the homestead tax rate is lower than the non-residential rate, residents that failed to declare their property as a homestead would be fined 8 percent of their education tax rate, and residents who don’t file correctly in towns that have homestead rates higher than non-residential are charged 3 percent. The previous Bristol penalty was 1 percent of a resident’s education tax rate.
For a $200,000 home, a Bristol owner assessed the 8 percent surcharge would be pay more than $240.
Each municipality may decide whether to implement the fee, as the fines would directly affect town revenues. Towns that don’t charge the higher penalty may not collect any penalty at all, explained Bristol Town Clerk and Treasurer Therese Kirby.
At Monday’s meeting, Kirby argued against the increased penalty.
“I don’t feel right doing that to the residents of Bristol. That’s upsetting. That’s a lot of money,” she said in an interview after the meeting. “I’ve never had anyone not file on purpose. Who would do that? You don’t get a better tax rate.”
After deliberation, the selectboard decided not to charge for this error.
Therefore, if Bristol residents receive a non-residential property tax bill and they need to change to declare it as a residential property, they won’t be charged a penalty.
“It doesn’t cost me $200 to revise a tax bill. My personal opinion is that (the penalty is) too high,” said Kirby.
The selectboard will soon issue a warning for a “special service district meeting” slated for Sept. 26.
The objective of this police district meeting is to vote on a new date for the Bristol Police District annual meeting, changing it from late May to instead coincide with the March town meeting.
“We’re trying to move it so the (police district) budgets … are handled at the same time as all of the rest of the municipal budgets, and we’re also trying to accommodate the fact that at the last two of these annual meetings, the voters have requested paper ballots,” said Town Administrator Bill Bryant. “By coordinating it with town meeting, we think that we can increase the participation significantly.”
As Bryant explained it, the plan is to have the police district annual meeting at around 6 p.m. before the traditional Monday night town meeting. Voting on the police district budgets would then be held the following day using the Australian paper ballots with the rest of Town Meeting Day voting.
Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected].

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