By Polly Mikula
When asked if taxes are going up, Killington selectman and Windsor Central School District (WCSD) school district board member Jim Haff didn’t waffle. “Yes,” he said bluntly. Then explained.
“There are two main parts of your tax bill, the state education tax makes up the majority and then there’s the town’s municipal tax,” Haff began. “The estimated education base rate for the district based on per pupil spending is actually less than last year [$1.4398 compared to $1.5155] despite the fact that the district budget is up about 8% or so, because the state is using surplus money to lower that rate again this year… but it’s the CLA that causes the spike in taxes for many towns, especially Killington,” he explained.
The Common Level of Appraisal (CLA) is a mechanism used by the state to assess fair market value of property. The lower the CLA the greater the differential between fair market value and the town’s grand list, meaning a wider margin to make up.
“CLA takes into consideration the value houses were selling for a year and a half ago compared to the grand list and averaged over the past three years,” Haff further explained. “With the current budget we’re in, the CLA for Killington property values was 75%; for the upcoming budget we’re voting on it’s 61.6% so that explains the increase you’ll see in the education tax.”
By way of example: Someone who owns a homestead property in Killington listed on the town’s Grand List as $400,000, will see a jump in taxes because the state assessed value of that property skyrocketed — from a CLA of 75.7% to 61.6% (in other words from a taxable value of $497,200 to $553,600). In FY23 the education tax rate was $2.0020 per hundred dollars of property value (that property paid $8,008 in education tax), but in FY24 the rate will be $2.3373 (that property will pay $9,349; an increase of $1,341 or 16.75% over last year.)
But in towns with a less extreme CLA differential, the increase is much less.
In Bridgewater, for example, the CLA is 81.1% making their FY24 homestead property tax rate $1.7742 (a property with a grand list value of $400,000 will pay $7,096.80 in education tax) just a 1.64% increase over last year (the lowest in the school district). Woodstock will see a 2.31% increase over last year, followed by Plymouth with a 7.81% increase, Barnard with a 10.62% increase, Pomfret with a 12.56% increase, Reading with a 14.61% increase and Killington with 16.75% increase — all based on varying levels of CLA assessments (see chart above).
School district articles
WCSD voters in Barnard, Bridgewater, Killington, Plymouth, Pomfret, Reading and Woodstock will be asked to approve the district budget (Article 2) which sets the rates above, plus three additional ballot items (Articles 7, 8 and 9), which if approve, would further increase education tax rates in the district.
Article 2 asks voters to approve the school districts budget of $25,836,048 — $23,135 per equalized pupil.
“I’m voting yes on the budget,” Haff said, explaining that the increase over last year’s budget was necessary due to “necessary things such as contractual salary increases, insurance, upping line items for the regular maintenance of school buildings, etc… We also hear every day about double-digit inflation and that’s affected this budget, too.”
Article 7 asks voters to authorize the financing of the design, bidding, permitting, and document development for the proposed new middle/high school in an amount not to exceed $1,650,000.
Article 8 asks voters to authorize public school building improvements to convert the steam heating system to a forced hot water heating system at the Woodstock Union Middle High School in an amount not to exceed $1,000,000.
Article 9 asks voters to authorize building improvements to replace the roof and implement an energy conservation project at the Killington Elementary School in an amount not to exceed $1,750,000.
Haff called Article 8 and 9 “much-needed” explaining that this was “basic maintenance to take care of the assets we own.”
“These jobs have to be done. As a select board and school board member I’d ask you to please vote ‘yes’ on these items,” he said.
Article 7, which asks for $1.65 million to plan for a new middle school/high school building, Haff endorsed less enthusiastically.
“Look, this conversation has been going on for some 6-plus years… from where I stand, it’s about time that we get this question answered: new build or not. The new build group would feel more comfortable with a yes vote here, to get a better handle on the pricing and permitting of a new build before they come back and ask you to pass a vote for the new building.”
“I’ll be voting yes on this article in addition to the other two,” he stated.
If Articles 7, 8 and 9 all pass, it will add 8.5 cents per 100 to the local base education tax rate — or $80 per $100,000 valuation — before the CLA.
In Killington that’s $2.33 to $2.45 per hundred (now $9,800 for that house on the grand list for $400,000 — $451 more than without the three articles.)
Haff noted that non-homestead properties pay a flat rate set by the state and are not effected by these bond votes. This year that rate is of $1.386 (before CLA). In Killington, once the 61.1% CLA is factored in, a non-homestead property will pay $2.25 in education tax.