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Revised ANWSD tax estimates show mostly lower rates

VERGENNES — A revised set of residential school tax estimates released by Addison Northwest School District officials for Town Meeting Day reports late in January show lower rates in four of the five ANWSD towns than originally projected earlier last month.
According to the estimates, Panton now joins Addison, Ferrisburgh and Waltham in having projected rates for the 2017-2018 tax year that are lower than the current year. Those reductions range from two-tenths of a cent in Panton to 14.7 cents in Ferrisburgh, while the tax rate increase in Vergennes drops from 1.6 cents to 1.3 cents.
The new calculations assume ANWSD residents back the proposed unified union spending plan of $21,116,289 to support spending at the four district schools and the central office, plus the district’s share of the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center budget.
That plan calls for a 1.68 percent increase over current district-wide spending, but is actually slightly less than the 2015-2016 district spending total of $21,159,752.
The earlier estimates were prepared for the ANWSD board during its early-January budget deliberations and published twice in the Independent.
But ANWSD Superintendent JoAn Canning said those estimates were, first, based on district officials’ best guess of the statewide school tax rate, and then more concrete information became available.
“We did not have the actual tax rate at the time of the previous meeting,” Canning said.
Also, she said, officials have updated Common Levels of Appraisals, or CLAs, from the towns with which to work. Each town’s CLA measures how closely its property is assessed to 100 percent of fair market value, according to state analysis of sales in each town.
If a town’s CLA is higher than 100 percent, the school tax rate is lowered to reflect the high evaluation of property in the town
If a town’s CLA is lower than 100 percent, the school tax rate is adjusted upward to reflect the under-valuation of property in the town.
Those adjustments are made to level the playing field across the state: The intent is each penny on the tax rate in each town should raise the same amount of revenue regardless of how accurately towns assess their real estate.
The ANWSD tax estimates also take into account the 10-cent discount off the statewide education rate the state awarded Vergennes-area towns for unifying their school governance and budgeting under Act 46.
Another critical assumption is outlined in red in the ANWSD Annual Report to residents: “All figures are subject to change by the State Legislature.”
Although Gov. Phil Scott’s budget plan that called for all school districts to fund their budgets at current levels is not gaining traction, the Legislature beginning last year now tweaks the Agency of Education’s recommended school tax rates at the end of the session to make sure there is enough cash to cover all approved school spending. In 2016, late legislative action meant the ANWSD estimates were about 2 cents low.
The latest estimates call for:
•  A 14-cent decrease in Addison’s residential school tax rate. The earlier estimate had been for a 9.6-cent decrease, meaning a recalculated estimate of an additional 4.4-cent decrease.
A 14-cent decrease translates to a $280 lower tax bill on a $200,000 home.    
•  A 14.7-cent decrease in Ferrisburgh’s residential school tax rate. The earlier estimate had been for a 12.10-cent decrease, meaning a recalculated estimate of an additional 2.6-cent decrease.
A 14.7-cent decrease translates to a $294 lower tax bill on a $200,000 home.   
•  A 0.3-cent decrease inPanton’s residential school tax rate. The earlier estimate had been for a 2.5-cent increase.
A 0.3-cent decrease translates to a $6 lower tax bill on a $200,000 home.   
•  A 1.3-cent increase in Vergennes’ residential school tax rate. The earlier estimate had been for a 1.6-cent increase.
A 1.3-cent increase translates to a $26 more in taxes on a $200,000 home.  
•  A 11.5-cent decrease in Waltham’s residential school tax rate. The earlier estimate had been for a 12.5-cent decrease, meaning a recalculated estimate of 1 cent less of a decrease.
An 11.5-cent decrease translates to a $230 lower tax bill on a $200,000 home.
Homeowners who pay based on their income and not on the value of their homes (they are in a majority in ANWSD and in most Vermont school districts) will not necessarily eventually save or pay the full amount of these decreases or increases.
The ANWSD board and officials will hold a public forum on the first unified union budget on Feb. 27 at 6 p.m. at Vergennes Union High School.

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