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Municipalities, banks, utilities feel ripple effect of taxpayers' woes

(WCAX)
Published: May. 21, 2020 at 5:26 PM EDT
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More Vermonters are struggling to buy food and pay the bills, causing a ripple effect in town coffers and at the Statehouse.

Colchester Town Manager Aaron Frank says the town is looking at nearly $400,000 of unpaid taxes since the March 15th due date. That's about 1% of their total taxes. "it is a concerning matter," he said. "Not a huge percentage, but still $390,000 is still a substantial number."

The majority of the tax dollars goes to the Vermont Education Fund. Colchester, like other municipalities across Vermont, doesn't want to miss their payment to the state, which could force them to borrow money and pay costly interest. To help communities not go into the red and potentially pass the added costs to homeowners, a the Legislature is looking at a measure that would have the state pay any interest incurred as a result of borrowing.

"I think the other cities and towns would think that's great," Frank said.

And if they do need to borrow money, banks are still in good financial health, despite shelling out millions to cover PPP loans for businesses. The Vermont Bankers Association's Chris D'Elia says financial institutions are working to modify loans and defer mortgage payments for those who are struggling to pay the bills. "There will be over time, growing financial stress on the industry, there's just no two ways about it," he said.

When it comes to utility bills, Green Mountain Power says it has seen double the number of customers who are behind on their payments at least 60 days since this time last year and the amount owed has nearly tripled to more than $6 million. "We've never seen anything like this before," said GMP's Kristin Kelly.

Disconnections and late fees are on hold through July and GMP is working with customers to ease payments and clear accounts. "When you look at the number of customers who are behind in their payments by that much at this point, that really shows how many Vermonters are hurting and how long this recovery is going to be," Kelly said.

But as more and more bills go unpaid, Governor Phil Scott has vowed that taxpayers should not be the ones to face tax hikes to backfill budget holes.

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