Breaking down the link between school budgets and property taxes - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Breaking down the link between school budgets and property taxes

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Taking the mystery out of Town Meeting Day tax proposals, from potential property tax hikes to how the increases are linked to school budgets. The formula is complex, and some taxpayers say it has gotten out of hand.

"Between property taxes and just other kinds of expenses it's getting hard to make ends meet in Vermont," said taxpayer Robert Smith of Jericho.

Smith says he came to the Browns River Middle School Thursday night for an informational session to help voters understand how their ballot choices will impact their taxes. For residents in the Mount Mansfield district like Smith, their school budgets are only increasing about 3 percent, yet his property taxes could spike 12.8 percent.

"That's a huge number. I'm living on fixed income now and so those kind of property tax increases are really significant," Smith said.

Many at the meeting had questions about why taxes are not increasing at the same rate as school budgets. A question that is echoed across the state.

"We've heard anecdotes from every sector of Vermont. And it really has to do with a number of variables," said Steve Dale of the Vermont School Boards Association.

Dale says there are several major factors that have caused a jump in taxes. School costs continue to climb, yet the number of students enrolled across the state is on a steady decline.

"If you're in a town that has a substantial decrease in the number of students and an increase in the budget you will see greater upward pressure, in addition to those statewide drivers," Dale said.

Those statewide drivers include a drop in funding. School districts receive money based on the number of students they have, so if they don't cut spending to equal the decline in enrollment, taxes must go up to make up the difference. Additionally, the state is recommending a 7-cent tax increase.

"I think this year because of the increase to the statewide tax rate-- that really increased how much the property tax rates people would see when it comes time for their tax bill," said Bob Fahey, the business manager for Chittenden East Supervisory Union.

Fahey says with statewide taxes and per pupil spending up and the student population down, many taxpayers will take a big hit this year if budgets are passed on Tuesday.

Education officials say more than 60 percent of Vermonters qualify for income sensitivity-- that means they will not have to pay the full property tax increase, leaving those who do not qualify to foot the bill.

Lawmakers say the proposed state tax increase could change by April.

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