Middlebury assessment of old courthouse stands for now

While the town might lose some property tax revenue from the Lodge, it will be gaining some from the former Addison County Courthouse at 5 Court Square. That’s because the property will, for the first time ever in its lengthy history, be subject to property taxes this year.
The old brick courthouse was built in 1883 on land originally owned by one of Middlebury’s founders, Gamaliel Painter. The old courthouse became the property of Middlebury College once the structure was replaced by the current Frank Mahady Courthouse, built nearby in 1995 and 1996.
The college in February announced it had sold the building to the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies (VCET) for $2 million. Plans called for VCET to lease back most of the structure to Middlebury College, while retaining a portion of it as a local headquarters to further its mission of helping entrepreneurs establish new high-tech businesses in the state.
Benton noted that VCET, as a nonprofit corporation, requested that the courthouse property remain tax-exempt.
But listers maintained the property should be taxed. VCET appealed that decision to the BCA. The BCA rejected the appeal, based in part on its determination that:
• VCET does not meet the criteria of tax-exempt status as outlined in V.S.A. 32 § 8302(4), specifically in regard to “public use tax exemption” and benefiting “an indefinite class of persons.” The board noted VCET offers, by its own admission, “a targeted business incubator program,” and is open to a wide range of industries but “does not focus on real estate, retail, and restaurants,” and that VCET “can only admit a select few into the incubator program.”
• VCET owns the property, but currently leases to Middlebury College, and the two entities do not appear to have mission statements that show an affiliation or common purpose.
• While VCET is a 501(c)3 corporation exempt from income taxes and recognized to receive tax-deductible donations from the public, the “BCA is not convinced that this automatically translates to exemption from property tax assessed by the town.”
The three-story building on a tenth of an acre is appraised by the town at $1,418,200.
Benton noted that VCET had 30 days in which to appeal the BCA decision to Addison County Superior Court. The organization elected not to do so — at least for this year.
“We still disagree with (the BCA’s) decision,” said Tom Corbin, assistant treasurer and director of business services for Middlebury College. “VCET wants to be a good neighbor, wanted to start here on a positive note, and decided not to appeal the decision.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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