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ANwSD tax rates increase

VERGENNES — Because of a change made late in this past legislative session, residential school tax rates in four of five Addison Northwest Unified Union School District (ANwSD) communities will be between about 2.76 and 3.56 cents higher than ANwSD officials’ good-faith estimates.
The exception is Ferrisburgh, where the estimate is now 1.78 cents lower than anticipated, according to Agency of Education figures released on Monday by ANwSD Superintendent JoAn Canning and business manager Tonia Mears.
They cautioned the figures could still move slightly because the rates await the final approval of the Vermont Department of Taxes. 
Mears said she expects the final rates to be similar to the rates ANwSD received from the Agency of Education, but said they are not set in stone.
“They are not finalized numbers yet. The tax department actually finalizes the numbers when they send out the tax bill information to the towns,” Mears said. “They’re going to be close, but I can’t say 100 percent they’re going to be the exact same ones. These are still estimates until the tax department puts their approval on them.”
Not all ANwSD towns will be seeing increases: Panton’s homestead tax rate is projected to drop by almost a penny.
Rates in the other four communities are projected to rise, however, by between 6.43 cents in Ferrisburgh to 10.79 cents in Waltham: See below for details.
The Agency of Education residential school tax rate estimates are higher in Vergennes by 2.76 cents, in Waltham by 3.3 cents, in Panton by 3.52 cents, and in Addison by 3.56 cents.
Rep. Dave Sharpe, D-Bristol, the chairman of the House Education Committee, explained why.
The two basic statewide rates by which residential property owners pay taxes — the $1 rate for residents who pay by the value of their property and the 2 percent rate for those who pay based on their income — are now fixed at the beginning of the Legislative session, Sharpe said.
The question — one that cannot be answered until the end of the session — simply becomes how much money those rates will raise.
The Agency of Education had projected those rates would yield $9,870 to contribute toward educating each pupil in Vermont, and local school districts, including ANwSD, based their estimates on those projections when they released them for Town Meeting Day. 
But Sharpe said when the dust settled, even though Legislators dedicated all but $200,000 of a $18.8 million fund balance from the past fiscal year to support the yield, the rates yielded only $9,701.
Mears summed up. 
“Once you lower the property tax yield, all of the (local) property tax rates go up,” Mears said.
Sharpe said three factors typically move the statewide yield: towns’ grand lists, residents’ incomes, and size of increases in local school budgets. If grand lists and incomes shrink while school spending rises, the yield is simply not as great, and local tax rates have to be higher. That’s essentially what happened, he said.
In addition, lawmakers decided mid-session to reduce financial penalties for school districts spending in excess of a state-imposed per-pupil spending threshold.
That change cost $8 million of revenue that they had planned to use to reduce lower taxes. Because Vergennes Union High School exceeded that threshold, ANwSD probably came out ahead in that exchange, Sharpe said.
In the ANwSD towns that do see property tax increases, roughly two-thirds of homeowners who pay based on their incomes will receive some of that money back in the form of prebates on their taxes for the following year.
In 2014, for example, 6,918 Addison County residents received an average tax bill adjustment of $1,587, according to state data.
Tax breaks from unification will also take effect on next year’s tax bills. Because ANwSD residents backed unification, they will receive a 10-cent discount on their 2017-2018 tax bills; that tax break does not apply this year.
Canning said she hopes also that ANwSD’s rate of declining enrollment could slow, citing the new affordable housing project in Waltham and the closing of St. Mary’s School in Middlebury as potential sources of new ANwSD students.
That factor, combined with the unification tax break, might mean less sticker shock in 2017.
“I would certainly hope there will be better news next year,” Canning said.
ADDISON
Addison’s estimated new residential school tax rate is $1.63, up from $1.5259.
That 10.41-cent difference equals about a 6.8 percent increase.
Without taking into account any eventual prebate relief, that increase translates to roughly $208 in new taxes a year on a $200,000 home.
FERRISBURGH
Ferrisburgh’s estimated new residential school tax rate is $1.697, up from $1.6327.
That 6.43-cent difference equals about a 3.9 percent increase.
Without taking into account any eventual prebate relief, that increase translates to roughly $129 in new taxes a year on a $200,000 home.
PANTON   
Panton’s estimated new residential school tax rate is $1.5494, down from  $1.5587.
That 0.93-cent difference equals about a 0.6 percent decrease.
That change translates to roughly $20 less in taxes a year on a $200,000 home.
VERGENNES
The new residential rate in Vergennes is $1.6021, up from $1.5084.
That 9.37-cent difference equals about a 6.2 percent increase.
Without taking into account any eventual prebate relief, that increase translates to roughly $280 in new taxes a year on a $200,000 home.
WALTHAM
Waltham’s estimated new residential school tax rate is $1.7653, up from $1.6574.
That 10.79-cent difference equals about a 6.5 percent increase.
Without taking into account any eventual prebate relief, that increase translates to roughly $187 in new taxes a year on a $200,000 home.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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