BENNINGTON -- Taxes can be confusing, and it was at a joint meeting between the local school district and town Select Board that an attempt was made to clarify things for voters.
The joint budget presentation held Monday at Bennington Fire House was the result of months of meetings between the Bennington Select Board, Southwestern Vermont Supervisory Union, Bennington School District, Mount Anthony Union School District, and the Southwest Vermont Regional Technical School District. The meetings were to create better communication between groups that budget taxpayer money.
To come up with a tax rate, a school district or town looks at what it must spend for the coming fiscal year, then subtracts what it has in revenue. What's left is the amount to be raised by taxes. For the town, it mostly ends there, but school districts have to factor in the state's base education tax rate and what it spends per equalized pupil.
The number of equalized pupils is not the number of individual students, said Richard Pembroke, chief financial officer for the SVSU, but is a weighted number based on students with low-income backgrounds, students who speak English as a second language, and secondary school students.
Once the school tax rate is set, it is added to the town's tax rate, and the total is charged per $100 of a property's assessed value.
"Common level of appraisal"
Further complicating matters is the town's "common level of appraisal," or CLA, which Town Manager Stuart Hurd said should ideally be at 100 percent. The CLA is set by the state and is intended to account for the disparity between what assessors say property is worth, and what it is actually selling for on the market.
Hurd said a low CLA would benefit a person selling their home by giving them lower taxes and a high sale amount, but bringing the CLA up brings up home values, and therefore taxes.
Looking at the different district budgets separately can paint an inaccurate picture of school spending. "The misconception that a number of people have is, they see SVSU at $16 million, they see BSD at $13 million, they see Mount Anthony at $26 million, they see the CDC at $3.6 million -- that's what they have to raise taxes on, that's not the case," said Pembroke. "They only need to raise their proportional share, which in this case is $31.8 million."
Pembroke said special education spending is, by statute, embedded within the SVSU budget.
"Most people see an SVSU budget of $16 million and think ‘Oh my God, we've got to raise 16 million dollars.' First of all, all of that money is double-booked within the local districts," he said.
Of the SVSU's $16 million budget, $13 million of it is special education spending double-booked with the local districts," he said.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.