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Panton to get new tax bills after mistake

PANTON — An accounting error made in Panton Town Hall that slipped past the Panton selectboard when the board adopted its tax rate resulted in the town in August sending out incorrect tax bills. Town officials confirmed on Wednesday those bills were based on a rate about 13 cents lower than it should have been.
Now they are asking Panton’s 320 taxpayers not to pay their tax bills until new ones arrive, probably early next week. The bills for Panton’s annual taxes will also have a new due date for the first installment, Nov. 9 instead of Nov. 1.
At a special meeting on Tuesday the Panton selectboard adopted a new, higher municipal portion of the rate of 56.80 cents per $100 of assessed value for the 2018-2019 fiscal year.
That is now a 1.64-cent increase over the 2017-2018 rate rather than a major decrease.
The mistaken town-only rate that Panton residents and non-residential property owners had seen in their August tax bills — not including the part of the rate supporting school spending — was 43.82 cents.
That had been a decrease of about 11 cents from the past year’s municipal rate and is almost 13 cents lower than the town rate to be printed on new bills.
The school portion of Panton’s rates remained the same, $1.65 for homeowners, roughly a 9.5-cent increase from a year ago; and $1.5819 for non-residential property owners, including owners of second homes along Lake Champlain, an increase of about 12 cents.
Bills with a new rate and a letter of apology will go out on Saturday, according to Selectboard Chairman Howard Hall.
Hall said the board is sorry for both its failure of oversight and the mistake made by Town Clerk/Treasurer Pam Correia in calculating the rate, something he said a Vermont League of Cities and Towns (VLCT) official told him happens more than occasionally.
“Nobody wakes up in the morning to smash the truck into the wall, and goes, ‘That’s what I’m going to do.’ And nobody woke up in the morning and say, ‘You know, I’m really going to put the town in a tizzy and screw up the tax rate.’ This is a mistake someone makes, and talking to VLCT, they’re basically understanding. He said, ‘This happens a lot,’” Hall said. “Our letter says we apologize for the mistake.”
Town officials said an accounting mistake involving a $140,000 fund balance from the 2017 fiscal year was behind the earlier incorrect tax bills.
Essentially, that fund balance was used as revenue to calculate a lower tax rate, but town voters had dedicated those funds at town meeting in March to be used toward repairs to and upgrades of Panton Town Hall ($100,000) and purchase of a truck for the town highway department ($40,000).
“That number should not have been in that calculation, because by being in there it dropped the rate,” Correia said on Wednesday. “I corrected that spreadsheet and sent it to the board last night without that number in there.”
Correia said she and the selectboard are acting as quickly as possible to minimize inconvenience.
“The important thing is we’re fixing it now,” Correia said. “We’re being proactive about the whole thing.”
Hall said installments on about 20 of the town’s 320 tax bills have been paid, and adjustments will have to be made for those taxpayers.
Hall also acknowledged that taxpayers who make monthly payments to banks that include escrowed taxes will have to rework those payments, and the town is working quickly to get corrected tax bills out and send information to lenders. Town officials will be able to help answer questions early next week, he said.
“We will have all the corrected tax bills on Friday, and they will be going out probably Saturday morning,” he said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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