ANWSD now projects lower taxes

VERGENNES — On Tuesday, the Addison Northwest School District residents will weigh in on a $21.6 million 2021-2022 (FY22) school spending plan that comes in at about $238,400 less than the district spending level they backed this past March.
And, according to the latest projections by ANWSD officials, homestead tax rates will also be going down if voters approve this spending plan, by between around a penny in Waltham, to about 19 cents in Panton.
Those estimates assume voters approve a separate article asking to use $266,000 of an audited FY20 surplus to offset taxes.
ANSWD officials said earlier tax-rate estimates couldn’t take into account a healthier Vermont Education Fund and lower statewide school spending than state officials had first projected when they gave local districts information on which to base their calculations.
ANWSD also gained a half-dozen students, according to the latest calculations made by the Agency of Education, an update that increased district revenue and lowered its per-pupil spending number. District per-pupil spending is a driver of the district tax rate; the lower the better.
ANWSD Director of Finance of Operations Elizabeth Jennings had projected a level district tax rate of $1.772 per $100 of assessed property value before the new information.
Because four of five ANWSD communities — all except Panton — had low Common Levels of Appraisal (CLAs), Jennings had also first estimated their homestead taxes would increase. If towns’ properties are assessed at below market value, state tax officials will use its CLA to increase school tax rates. 
Panton’s CLA rose this year, meaning it decreased the tax rate, while those in Addison, Ferrisburgh, Vergennes and Waltham all dropped, meaning it increased the district rate.
But now Jennings calculates the FY22 district rate at $1.6643, about 11 cents lower than the current FY21 rate, enough to offset the low CLAs.
That means, assuming no further changes in the state numbers and using owners of a $300,000 home who pay based on its assessed value as examples:
•  In ADDISON, the homestead tax rate would drop from $1.7148 to $1.6826.
Taxes on a $300,000 home would fall from $5,144 to $5,048.
•  In FERRISBURGH, the homestead tax rate would drop from $1.7597 to $1.6945.
Taxes on a $300,000 home would fall from $5,279 to $5,084
•  In PANTON, the homestead tax rate would drop from $1.9084 to $1.7115.
Taxes on a $300,000 home would fall from $5,702 to $5,135.
•  In VERGENNES, the homestead tax rate would drop from $1.8458 to $1.8132.
Taxes on a $300,000 home would fall from $5,537 to $5,440.
•  In WALTHAM, the homestead tax rate would drop from $1.723 to $1.7152.
Taxes on a $300,000 home would fall from $5,169 to $5,146.
About two-thirds of homeowners pay based on their income and would see varying savings.

The adopted $21.6 million ANWSD budget preserves current student programming, but makes cuts that include supplies, a bus route, two support-staff positions, and field trips. It adds a preK program that Ferrisburgh Central School will host, and boosts individual technology instruction.
The budget marks the third time in the past four years the ANSWD board approved a spending plan with a decrease. In all, the proposed spending is about $450,000 lower than the FY2018 budget.
ANSWD Board Chair John Stroup said those facts offer evidence that Act 46 and district consolidation has helped control spending and taxes in the Vergennes area.
Voters on Tuesday will also consider other financial requests related to what is a roughly $1.6 million FY20 surplus:
•  To create an ANWSD Education Stabilization Fund using $890,895 of the surplus.
A district could use an Education Stabilization Fund — with advance voter approval — to handle a financial emergency during a school year. An emergency could be an immediate infrastructure problem, such as a failing heating system, or a budget hole due a personnel issue that required an additional hire, officials said.
Board members said the fund could also help with a shortfall; a number of districts around the state have already created such a fund, including Addison Central and Mount Abraham; and the ANWSD’s auditors recommended creating it.
•  To put $475,000 of the surplus into the existing general district-wide ANWSD capital reserve fund. That fund can support necessary infrastructure projects at any district building.
•  To use up to $380,000 of the surplus to pay for mitigation of mold infestation at Ferrisburgh Central School and related repairs.

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