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Letter to the Editor: Per parcel water-improvement fee would be regressive

Many of Vermont’s lakes and streams have serious water quality problems that will require money to clean up and meet Federal guidelines. The funding solution proposed by Chris Bray and endorsed by Angelo Lynn in the Dec. 7 Independent is the latest of many regressive taxes proposed by Democrats. Like the sugary-drink tax and the carbon tax, a per-parcel tax to fund water cleanup hurts working Vermonters and unfairly causes tax rates to go up most for those least able to pay.
Unlike those other taxes, a per-parcel also serves to discourage the very activity that most contributes to clean water in Vermont —owning and responsibly managing forest land. Let me illustrate. The website Zillow lists Sen. Bray’s home in New Haven at $599,500. The tax rate in New Haven is currently 1.95, so the taxes on this parcel would be $11,689, plus or minus.
My children own a 47-acre woodlot in Starksboro, which is carefully managed to preserve and protect forest health and water quality while also providing a steady supply of forest products such as saw log and firewood. The land is not posted, and generates many benefits for the community and economy, a value that is recognized by the current use program. In short, this property produces clean water. Taxes for this woodlot currently are $118. Under a per parcel proposal, taxes for both properties would go up the same amount, we’re told $52. For my children, this would be a 44 percent increase in property taxes, but for Sen. Bray it would be a mere .44 percent increase, one one-hundredth of the tax rate increase for my children.
This tax is regressive by design. The fact that it gives wealthier homeowners an easy out and unfairly targets less well-off homeowners or those who own multiple farm or forest parcels is not a “bug” as Angelo Lynn suggests. It is the design. All Vermonters deserve clean water, and complying with Federal clean water laws should not be optional. However, funding the solution should not just be quick and simple to calculate and collect. It should be fair and intelligent, and this proposal is neither.
Len Schmidt
New Haven

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