Letters: Catamount fan

Thursday July 4, 2013

My name is Brandon Lawyer. I am 11 years old. I enjoy the Catamounts. It is fun to go around town looking for them. The designs are very beautiful. I especially like the one "It's Raining Cats and Dogs" on Main Street. The artists must be very talented to paint these. Thank you, Town of Bennington for such a cool idea.



Time for transparency

The dog days of summer are usually the time of year that Vermonters line up at their town's lister office to try and make heads or tales of their tax bill in anticipation of making that November payment.

Unfortunately, it is completely impossible to determine how your valuation was determined. Curious how your fat tax bill stacks up against your neighbors, well good luck!

Currently all of the information on your lister card (in most towns) is determined by proprietary software that assigns a square foot value based on room type and the number of fixtures in the room. It then assigns an effective depreciation and energy efficiency data point that, to the naked eye, appears to be derived from unicorn flatulence.

Not to be outdone the town will also assign a land grade value to the area immediately surrounding your house. This doesn't seem to differentiate between stately manor landscaping or sheer rock cliff. Any land beyond the two acres that compromise your homestead is apparently looked at from a distance and given a value as randomly assigned from the latest and greatest iPhone app or perhaps the previous evenings winning BINGO combination.

Thankfully all of these issues can be appealed, and if you can attend the grievance hearing (usually scheduled for the middle of a work day) you might have a chance to question that assessment. Assuming you make it that far and haven't simply given up, you will have a group of town officials visit your property. These folks are very well intended but they also have absolutely no knowledge of the software programs used in determining the value of your home. Nor is there any baseline available to guide them. Instead they will make decisions based on their own fact findings, which of course alter the values on a lister card and make it even more indecipherable to compare your property to any property in your town.

It is long overdue for our representatives in Montpelier to make this a transparent process. Every detail of the calculation that determines the value of your home and land should be available to each and every homeowner. This should involve very simple building code standards to let homeowners know exactly what "average" energy efficiency is, exactly what constitutes a high land grade (Shaftsbury for instance now has a completely arbitrary view tax), and what type of structures are exempt from property taxes (dog houses?, chicken coops, etc). There may be some very positive outcomes to making this information available, no longer scared of the tax monster homeowners will be able to calculate the impact of additions, upgrades, and towns might be able to collect more revenue from under assessed properties. Having access to the methods used in determining the tax value of your home should be a basic property right.




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