On May 23, 2024

Large turnout for Hartland school budget info session

By Curt Peterson

The May 21 Hartland school budget information session may be the best-attended school board gathering in recent history — an estimated 40 people attended in person at Damon Hall in Hartland, and another 41 tuned in online.

Hartland voters had already approved the $11,040,567 budget 320-311 on April 2. But a petition successfully called for a revote, as the margin was a mere 9 votes. 

The school budget is a key local issue — there are signs around town urging people to vote — many of which are urging people to vote “No.”

The meeting was recorded, so voters unable to attend can watch the proceedings in their own time at: youtube.com/@WsesuNet.

The probable increase in property education taxes of approximately 21% for FY2025 motivated many to turn up at the meeting. The bills will come out in July and are bound to create even more angst among property owners.

A rough estimate of the tax increase on a modest $250,000 home is $1,500 annually, an onus that has many considering selling their properties.

The school board rescinded their original budget prior to Town Meeting. Reduced by $500,000, the current budget will be on a ballot on Tuesday, May 28. 

Voters can cast their ballots at the town office any time up to, Tuesday, when official polls will be open.

The revised budget total is approximately $11.1 million dollars, of which only 5% is controlled by the local school board, according to Nicki Buck, school board president. The balance consists of unfunded mandates levied by the state, e.g. universal lunches, special education services, after-school programs, etc., faculty salaries and benefits, which are negotiated by the state, and health insurance premiums that are also negotiated by the state.

At the information meeting much time was spent explaining how the Common Level of Appraisal (CLA) is responsible for the tax increase, and is independent of the school budget. The original budget, according to Buck, would have kept the tax rate unchanged from FY2024.

What is the CLA? The state calculates the estimated market value of all properties in Vermont and compared them with the values reported by towns on their Grand List. For various reasons, the market value of properties has increased significantly in the past five years since Hartland’s last reappraisal.

Hartland listers confirm that the state’s assessment of market value is reasonably close to what they estimate.

The CLA is meant to bring taxable values up to the state’s estimated market values, so that all Vermonters pay their fair share based on current value. Each town is different. In Hartland, Grand List values are about 69% of the state’s estimated market values. So the value to which tax is applied is adjusted to make up that difference.

Some think rushing a reappraisal will solve the problem. But that’s not true.

Here’s an over-simplified (the technical math is confusing) example why that isn’t true:

Fictitious Tax Rate: $1.00

Grand List property assessment: $100,000.

Tax before CLA is applied: $1,000.

State estimated appraisal: $125,000.

CLA effect on taxes: 1.25X

CLA adjusted tax: $1,250.

After re-appraisal

Re-appraised property value: $125,000.

Tax rate: $1.00

Re-appraised tax: $1,250.

All the re-appraisal has done is document the taxable value estimated by the CLA. The tax amount generated is the same.

People who plan to vote “no” on May 28 feel there is a direct connection between the budget and their projected tax increase, which the school board says is incorrect.

Buck cited several increases not in the board’s control, so absorbed in the budget, including loss of federal funding for two teacher positions, $389,671 increase in tuition paid to high schools, $177,696 increase in health insurance premiums, and $193,937 increase in the cost of special education services. Mandated increases total $1,049,439.

“The only costs we control are maintenance and upkeep of the property, and the number of staff members,” Buck said. “And we will have one fewer educators on staff than in the current tax year.”

The proposed budget is 10% higher than FY24, but none of that increase is controllable by the school board, she said.

Both of Hartland’s legislators were present at the meeting. According to Representative John Bartholomew, the Legislature is continuing to work on the tax increase problem, but they realize rushing to redesign the education funding formula could result in a less than desirable result. The Legislature has appointed a commission to focus on the issue, hoping to produce a meaningful replacement for the current problematic method of financing on the backs of property owners for future years. 

Legislators have cobbled together some relief  for the FY2025 tax year, but the governor has indicated he plans to veto it. In June there will be a “veto over-ride” session during which legislators hope to over-ride his decision.

Those who plan on voting “No,” made several suggestions at the informational meeting that they felt might reduce the budget and, therefore, the tax burden. Some included: Cutting teaching positions, limiting high school choices, and eliminating “current use” tax status for second-home owners. But once again the presentation demonstrated that changes in the budget would not affect the tax increase.

Asked what would happen if the budget fails on May 28, Buck explained the steps that would follow. 

“The board would have 30 days to produce another budget. If that budget fails, there would be another vote every seven days until a proposed budget passes,” she said. “If there is no voter-approved budget by July 1, the state will assign a temporary tax rate and the board will be allowed to borrow up to 87% of its budget, incurring interest costs until a budget passes.”

Do you want to submit feedback to the editor?

Send Us An Email!

Related Posts

Quechee hot air balloon festival lifts off

June 12, 2024
Hartford Area Chamber Prepares for Balloon Festival Friday, June 14 at 3 p.m. to Sunday, June 16 at 6 a.m. ­—QUECHEE —The Quechee Hot Air Balloon Craft and Music Festival, Village Green, Quechee, the longest running hot air balloon festival in New England, will celebrate its 44th anniversary in 2024 when thousands are expected to…

Yale student wrote her thesis on Vermont’s school mergers, found they don’t save much

June 12, 2024
By Ethan Weinstein/VTDigger While studying economics and education at Yale University, Grace Miller found a surprise topic on the agenda: Vermont’s one-of-a-kind school funding formula.  The 22-year-old from Newport and her classmates learned about the Brigham decision, a 1997 Vermont Supreme Court case that found the state’s education finance system was unconstitutional.  In response to the case, the…

Killington road work extends into Saturday morning

June 12, 2024
Drilling and blasting will continue this week at the intersection of Route 4 and Killington Road in Killington. A detour remains in place via West Hill Road.  As the project approaches the scheduled end date of July 8, work to haul out rock will occur on Saturdays till about noon time going forward, Markowski Excavating,…

Hartland board to propose new vendors’ ordinance

June 12, 2024
By Curt Peterson The Hartland Select Board refined a proposed new Vendors’ Ordinance to replace the original that’s been in effect since 1996. According to Town Manager John Broker-Campbell, “There are minor changes which will hopefully help to clear up any confusion or ambiguity on the applicability of the ordinance.”   The Select Board will next…