Property taxes: Past, present, future

LISA SCAGLIOTTI
Correspondent

Delinquent property taxpayers have been put on notice in Shelburne as town officials work to bring tax scofflaws into compliance.

How? First by asking, then asking again, and ultimately looking at formal steps to collect what’s due.

With the first payments of property taxes due Aug. 15 this week, the topic of taxes took up much of the selectboard’s Tuesday meeting.

Town Manager Lee Krohn reported on progress to reduce the number of delinquent property tax accounts and Town Assessor Ted Nelson addressed the need for a town-wide property reappraisal to begin this fall.   

In his role as delinquent tax collector for the town, Krohn said he sends out monthly letters to people whose accounts are past due. He has begun following up with individuals with conversations resulting in some payments made, some payment plans established, but more work to do.

“I’m committed to doing better,” Krohn said.

In a letter to delinquent taxpayers dated Aug. 2, Krohn wrote that “property tax payments are not optional” because they fund ongoing town services for everyone. “Water still flows, wastewater is still treated, roads are still plowed in winter, and emergency services are still provided each and every day. Failing to pay your taxes means that everyone else is carrying this financial burden. It’s not right, and it’s not fair.”

Krohn said the list of overdue tax accounts now numbers about 50 with 35 being substantial amounts. That’s about half as many as when he started in his job last year. Amounts owed range from less than $100 to more than $100,000, Krohn said. 

Together the delinquent accounts represent about $300,000 in principle owed, which is just under 1 percent of the total taxes billed annually, according to town Finance Director Peter Frankenburg. 

Krohn said the outstanding total dropped several days ago when a residential property on the list sold and a tax bill of $94,510 was paid.

Selectboard members praised the efforts to catch up.

“I’m happy that we’re taking a more aggressive stance on this,” said board member Jaime Heins.

“It’s sending a signal,” Mike Ashooh said. 

Although state law gives the town the authority to collect taxes and penalize delinquent taxpayers with interest charges and even tax sales, the selectboard wants to adopt a formal policy that clearly lays out steps the town should take to handle such cases.

Krohn referred to examples of policies from the Vermont League of Cities and Towns and from other municipalities for discussion. Board Chair Jerry Storey said a policy should include steps to put liens on properties with taxes in arrears.

“We do mean serious business here,” Storey said.

The board asked Krohn to revise draft language to review further at its next meeting. Member Mary Kehoe, a lawyer, suggested that they consider hiring a law firm that specializes in debt collection and foreclosures to handle some of the more complicated cases.

Looking ahead to future property taxes, the town assessor told the board that a look at current assessments compared with shifting market values from home sales indicates that it’s time to start work on a town-wide property reappraisal. The last one was done in 2008, Nelson said.

The board agreed to Nelson’s recommendation that it be done in-house starting in the fall with the help of a temporary employee. The task would take several years to assess the town’s 2,900 properties, Nelson said, with the target of having updated property values for the 2023 grand list.

Nelson estimated that the reappraisal would cost the town about $229,000. The state contributes annually to a reserve fund for this purpose; the town’s fund has $235,000, Nelson said.

Taxpayers this week were to pay their first of three property-tax payments for the 2019-20 fiscal year which began July 1.

The selectboard in July set the tax rate. The town portion increased by just over 5 percent as expected from $0.4197 to $0.4416 per $100 of property value. The school tax dropped slightly from last year, from $1.5246 to $1.5235 for residential properties.

The total residential property tax rate for this year comes to $1.9657. Taxes on a home valued at $200,000 would be $3,931.

Tax bills are divided into three payments in Shelburne due the 15th of August, November and March.

In other business Tuesday, the selectboard amended the zoning fee schedule to exempt municipal projects from having to pay development permitting fees such as building permit fees, impact fees and fees for permits issued by the development review board and planning commission. 

The board heard an update on construction on the new Pierson Library which is nearing completion with an opening planned in September. It also continued discussions with representatives of the Shelburne Historical Society regarding its agreement to use space in the renovated Town Hall building.

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