1. Property tax exemptions for volunteer fire department property
must be voted at town meeting. Property tax exemptions for
volunteer fire departments must be voted at town meeting. The
exemption can be voted for ten years and thereafter for five-year
periods. 32 V.S.A. §3840. The Vermont Lister’s Handbook provides a
good discussion of property tax exemptions including a chart giving
the source of funding for education property tax liability for locally
voted exemptions. The handbook also includes a chapter on properties
that are exempt under state or federal law, and another chapter on
exemptions that must be voted by the town.
2. Property purchased by exempt entity retains non-exempt status
until April 1st of the next year. When a
church purchases property after April 1st, , the
date when the grand list is lodged there is no mechanism in the
statutes to grant a tax exemption until the following year.
When the listers prepare the next year’s grand list, the property can
be listed as exempt under 32 V.S.A. §3802(4) and 3832, but until then
taxes are due from the owner.
3. Towns cannot abate taxes of nonprofit based on change of
ownership. The board of abatement can only exercise those powers
specifically delegated by statute, and cannot exceed those powers. 24
V.S.A. § 1535 provides the complete list of reasons for abatement of
local property taxes, including when a taxpayer dies insolvent, or a
person has left the state, or when a person is unable to pay. These
are the only reasons that local property taxes can be abated. The
change in status of the owners of property to nonprofit is not one of
the permissible reasons to abate taxes.
4. Taxes from prior years may be abated. The board of abatement
may abate, in whole or in part, taxes from prior years so long as one
of the statutory reasons for granting abatement applies. If taxes from
a prior year are abated, the board of abatement may choose to give the
taxpayer a cash refund, or the board may provide a credit towards the
current and future year’s taxes. 24 V.S.A. § 1535.
5. Successful tax appeal for current year does not mean abatement
of prior years taxes. An appeal by a taxpayer of his or her
appraisal is a challenge of the current year’s tax bill. A successful
appeal which results in a lower appraisal for the current year’s taxes
does not entitle the taxpayer to a refund of taxes paid in prior
years, even if those payments were based on an appraised amount which
has now been reduced. While not entitled to a refund, there is nothing
to stop the taxpayer from seeking abatement of the taxes paid in the
prior years at the higher appraisal amount; however, the board of
abatement is not required to grant an abatement.
6. Board abatement cannot abate only interest and penalty. 24
V.S.A. § 1535 contemplates that the board of abatement may only abate
interest and penalty proportionately to the taxes abated. Abatement
should not be used to remove interest and penalty from a late payer
(even one who had a very good excuse for being late) unless tax is
also being abated.
7. Selectboard can appoint BCA members to create balance for
elections. Upon request of an underrepresented major party, the
selectboard can appoint additional members to the board of civil
authority to bring the major party membership up to three. 17
V.S.A. §2143. However, these appointees can only participate in
activities relating to elections. The appointees are not Justices of
the Peace and have no authority to act with respect to functions of
the board of civil authority that are not related to elections, such
as tax appeals, tax abatement, or performing marriages/civil unions.
8. Selectboard can appoint an acting zoning administrator to act
when the administrator has a conflict of interest. When a zoning
administrator has a conflict of interest, or needs a permit for his
own property, the planning commission, with the approval of the
selectboard can appoint an acting zoning administrator for the limited
purpose of handling the matters in which the zoning administrator
feels he/she has a conflict. 24 V.S.A. §4442.
9. Municipalities should adopt policy governing use of public
buildings. It is a best practice for each legislative body,
selectboard, school board, or other public body that owns buildings,
to adopt a policy outlining its requirements for use of town or school
property by other groups. It is constitutionally permissible
for a board to prohibit any and all use by outside groups. However, it
is not good policy, and may cause discrimination claims, to allow use
of the buildings by certain categories or types of groups and not
other groups, unless there is a real difference in the type of use
being requested. For example, it is reasonable and acceptable to limit
use of certain rooms or spaces to groups of less than 30, or to
meetings ending not later than 9 p.m. However, it may be
discriminatory to allow the boy scouts to meet in a room, but to turn
down a political caucus or a religious organization.
10. Villages generally use town grand list. Most villages in
Vermont set the tax rate for the village using the grand list
assessments prepared by the town listers. If a resident grieves
his taxes, and the listers or BCA make an adjustment lowering the
property assessment, the grand list will be adjusted and the village
must also lower the assessed amount.
11. Taxpayer must permit inspection committee to visit property as
part of an appeal. An inspection committee is required to inspect
the taxpayer’s property as part of the tax appeal process. The
committee must then report back to the full board of civil authority
that is hearing the property tax appeals, but if the taxpayer refuses
access to the property, his or her appeal is deemed withdrawn. 32
V.S.A. §4404. All three members of the inspection committee must
inspect the property but it is not mandatory that they inspect it at
the same time, although this is the best practice. If the inspection
committee does not see some part of the property that the appellant
wanted it to see, it can return to the property a second time within
the 30 days. The inspection committee then gives its report to the
full board within 30 days from the hearing. The board of civil
authority must hear and consider the report, but it also considers all
of the evidence presented at the hearing, so that the final decision
may differ from the inspection committee report. If, after notice, an
appellant refuses to allow the inspection committee to inspect
whatever parts of the property (both outside and inside) it wants to
inspect, the appeal shall be deemed withdrawn.
12. Tax appeals can result in increase or decrease in the appraisal.
When considering appeals of property tax appraisals the Board of Civil
Authority may increase, decrease or sustain the appraisal. (32 V.S.A.
§4409.) Once the taxpayer raises the issue of the property’s
valuation, the BCA must make findings to support what the BCA believes
to be the correct valuation of the property, even if that amount is
higher than the listers’ assessment. The same is true for further
appeals to the State Board of Appraisers or the Superior Court.
13. A municipal ordinance cannot be adopted or established by vote
of the electorate. With the exception of ethics rules and zoning
and subdivision bylaws, only the Selectboard can adopt or amend an
ordinance. Once an ordinance has been adopted the legal voters of the
town can bring a petition signed by 5% of the voters within 44 days of
the adoption of the ordinance to require the selectboard to warn a
meeting to allow voters to vote to disapprove an ordinance. However, a
petition cannot be used to force a town to vote to adopt or amend an
ordinance. 24 V.S.A. §1972 and 1973.
14. Registered voters in Vermont shall not lose residency for
voting purposes solely by living outside of the United States.
Vermont law provides that Vermont voters who live outside the United
States retain their residency for voting purposes. Until the voter
returns to reside in the United States, the voter can remain on the
checklist and vote by absentee ballot in the town in which the voter
last resided, regardless of his or her reason for living outside of
the United States.
15. A person who moves back to the United States must register to
vote where he lives. Although a person retains their residency for
voting purposes while living abroad, once they return to the United
States they may only vote in the jurisdiction where they live.
For example, when a member of the armed forces who has been in Germany
for 20 years retires and moves back to the United States, that person
must register to vote in the place in where he or she resides. If you
send a letter as part of your purging process and the person returns
your form giving another town or state as his or her residence, you
can remove that person from your checklist.
16. Petitions for financial support of social service agencies can
include more than one agency. Social service agencies can join
together in circulating a petition signed by 5% of the legal voters to
ask to have an article or several articles placed on the warning for
town meeting. However, when using a joint petition, we strongly
suggest that each agency present its request in a separate Article in
the petition so that the votes for each agency will be taken
separately on the ballot or during the floor town meeting.
17. Landowner will not be not liable for injuries of those who go
onto the land for recreation. Unless the landowner is charging for
access to his or her land, an owner of property will not ordinarily be
liable for property damage or personal injury sustained by a person
who enters or goes upon the owner’s land for a recreational use. An
owner can be liable if the damage or injury is the result of the
willful or wanton misconduct of the owner. 12 V.S.A. § 5793
18. Town manager may be removed for cause. The law provides
that a town manager "shall hold office at the will of such selectmen,
who, by majority vote, may remove him at any time for cause." 24 V.S.A.
§ 1233. However, once a manager’s contract has expired the board is
free to hire anyone it chooses to serve as the manager for the town.
19. Boards and commissions may set up subcommittees. No law
prevents boards and commissions from setting up subcommittees. This
means that unless the board or commission was specifically prohibited
from setting up subcommittees by the appointing authority that it may
do so. Note that subcommittees must comply with the requirements of
the open meeting law. 1 V.S.A. § 310.
20. Petition cannot require meeting on a particular date. A
petitioned article for a special town meeting may not dictate the date
that the meeting is to be warned for. The law gives the selectboard
the discretion to warn the meeting at a date it chooses (as limited by
the law). The law provides that the selectboard has 15 days from
receiving the petition to set the warning. The meeting must be warned
for not less than 30 nor more than 40 days before the meeting date. 17
V.S.A. § 2641.
In our monthly Opinions we provide what we believe the law requires based
upon our legal judgment, years of observing Vermont’s local government
practices, and Vermont Court decisions. This information is intended as a
reference guide only and should not replace the advice of legal counsel.
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