Court rules Colchester must repay some camp owners
COLCHESTER, Vt. -
It's a financial victory for Lydia Wisloski and dozens of camp owners along Lake Champlain.
"We feel the land was being taxed twice," Wisloski said.
We first met Wisloski last summer when she and 43 other camp owners along the lake in Colchester appealed their 2011-2012 tax bills from the town.
"Looking at my own tax bill, only one-fifth of the tax bill was taxed on the cottage and fourth-fifths of the tax bill was taxed on the land," Wisloski said.
Her camp is on leased land. The owner of the land pays property taxes to the town for the value of the land. It's the responsibility of the camp owners to pay for the value of the buildings. But after Colchester did a townwide reappraisal, the town billed the homeowners for the value of the building and the property.
"In a lot of ways, it's double taxation," said Liam Murphy, the lawyer for the camp owners. "Instead of taxing just the building, they taxed what they called an amenity value; the location of the building based upon the location, access to the lake, its views and the neighborhood, and they added it to the buildings."
The town of Colchester and its lawyers declined to comment on the judge's ruling. But in court they argued that in order to fairly assess the value of the camps, they needed to consider the significance of the building's location.
"Their view was that each camp had more value than just the sticks of the building; where it sat on the land added to the value, and when they went to sell it, they could sell it for more than just what the building was," Murphy said.
The ruling will cost the town about $200,000 this year. Only the 44 camp owners that appealed will be reimbursed. But it's estimated there are about 500 camps and cottages on leased land in Colchester. They can appeal their 2012-2013 tax bills. That could cost the town about $2 million.
"It will be great to be reimbursed," Wisloski said.
WCAX News contacted the Vermont Tax Department to see if this double taxation is an issue in other communities across the state, but they said no, this is a unique situation in Colchester.
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