On March 8, 2023

Woodstock votes to keep elected listers

By Katy Savage 

About 80 Woodstock residents braved a foot of snow on Saturday, March 4 to attend Town Meeting at the Woodstock Town Hall.  Another 20 attended via Zoom. 

Much of the discussion in the 2 ½ hours focused on eliminating the three elected lister positions and replacing them with auditors. The article ultimately failed 46-32 in a paper ballot vote. 

Some residents questioned the Select Board’s motives and had concern about the potential for non-residents appraising residences.  

“I do feel you want people who live in Woodstock to be assessing Woodstock properties,” she said Jennifer Maxham, a former lister. 

Select Board member Joe Swanson clarified the current elected listers, Kathy Avellino and Tim McCarthy, would be hired as town employees if the article passed. The hourly wages of the listers, set at $27.33 per hour, would not change. 

“It’s not a change that would cost someone their jobs or anything like that,” Swanson said.  

Listers are responsible for assessing the fair market value of real estate, which gives an accurate and up-to-date taxable value. The tradition dates back 250 years. However, more towns are eliminating the lister positions and replacing them with employee-assessors, according to the Vermont Department of Taxes, as the position has become more  complex.  There are pros and cons, according to the tax department.

Assessors have the professional experience and knowledge of state laws, but may lack local knowledge and may not have the same autonomy as that of an elected official. Conversely, an elected lister brings local knowledge but may not have skills and  isn’t required to attend training.

“The changes are proactive to give the town some stability and oversight in the future,”  Town Manager Eric Duffy said. “There is no current oversight on that office. In the future, when there is an opening we can ensure… we’re getting qualified people in that office and we can require training.”

Select Board member Susan Ford said personal biases can play a role when electing officials. 

“The listers go through a lot of training and then they’re up for reelection, which we all know in small towns can end up being a popularity contest,” Ford said. “By us being able to appoint, we can maintain the training and experience in that important office.”

This was the town’s first time returning to an in-person Town Meeting since Covid-19.

Residents also approved a $7.6 million budget, of which about $5.7 million will come from property taxes. The budget is up about a 5% increase from last year’s budget.

Although the budget passed without much discussion, resident Roger Williams was concerned about the rapid increase over the years. He said the budget has increased 50% since 2013, calling it “an unsustainable rate of growth. ”

A finance committee was appointed last year to address increased expenses. “We’re hoping for lower increases,” Ford said. “It’s a start and they know they have a lot of homework to do.”

The board will elect officers by Australian ballot on Tuesday, March 7. 

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