Vt. voters worried about tax rates - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. voters worried about tax rates

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Next Tuesday is Town Meeting Day. Vermonters all over the state will weigh in on school budgets in their community, but some worried voters won't know how their ballots will affect their taxes.

Across the state, Vermont voters are expected to see a proposed average increase of 3 percent on school budgets, but outside pressures are expected to drive up tax rates even in some areas with flat or decreasing education costs.

"I think I'm especially concerned this year," said Rep. Mary Morrisey, R-Bennington.

Morrisey says those casting ballots will have less information at their fingertips.

In previous years, the House of Representatives issued an expected property tax rate so voters could get an idea of how their vote may affect their taxes.

That guidance won't be coming this year and Morrisey says residents should have every piece of information possible given significant tax hikes.

"I think the taxpayers are looking at their budgets very carefully in this economic climate which continues to be a little bit challenging around the state," said Morrisey.

"Local school boards and local voters will make decisions about budgets and then the Legislature will act," said Rep. David Sharpe, D-Bristol.

Sharpe is a senior member of the House's tax-levying committee. He says a few years ago the tax commissioner began putting together an estimate for towns and school boards that rendered the Legislature's report redundant.

"I think in the long run this is a better process," said Sharpe.

Sharpe says waiting will allow the House committee to see actual rather than projected school budgets, so representatives won't need to rely on their colleagues in the Senate to adjust their guesswork.

The expected total increase in school spending shrank since the tax commissioner issued her guidance, likely making the tax impacts look worse than reality.

Steve Dale of the Vermont School Boards Association says the difference should be minimal but says there is reason for worry.

"The concern of school boards is that taxpayers may choose to vote against a budget that is very reasonable: 56 largely to make a statement about tax rates that are driven by an overall system," said Dale.

Vermont's education funding mechanism is expected to be tweaked this year, but not redrawn.

The outcome of school budget votes could determine how much momentum there is for change in the next legislative year.

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