BI-MONTHLY GENERAL MEETING MINUTES MAY 5, 2010

MINUTES OF THE VALA DIRECTORS MEETING

MAY 5, 2010

President John Fike called the meeting to order at 9:00 a.m. A listing of attendees follows the minutes

A motion was made by Ed Clodfelter to approve the Secretary’s report.  The motion was seconded and passed.

Presidents comments:  First issue of the VALA Newsletter was mailed out and it was quickly determined that all computers are not created equal.  Some people received the Newsletter with no problem, but that was not so with everyone.  A lot of positive comments were received and it will continue to improve as time goes on.

The Treasurer’s report was read and accepted on a motion by Randy Viens as follows:

Balance 2/28/2010 $5,157.50
Dues Received 105.00
Expenses
Donuts 16.00
TOEC Workshop 286.78
Total Expenses 302.78
Balance 02/28/10 General Fund 3,959.72
Balance 04/30/10 Education Fund 1,000.00
Balance 04/30/10 Checking Acct $4,959.72
118 Memberships have been paid currently

Louise reported that we have 7 new members since the last meeting.  Still, no one has applied for any scholarship money.  There continues to be a lot of interest in the VALA website from people around the state and nation.

TOEC Review:  There was a good response to the TOEC workshops with the largest attendance being from the Lister community.

STEVE JEFFREY:  Current Use—the Senate has passed its version of the Current Use Bill which will basically levy a one time $128 fee from every property enrollee who has land in the Current Use program.  This tax will be part of the property owner’s tax bill, subject to the same due date, penalty for late payment, etc.  The House will ask for a Conference Committee as they are not happy with the flat $128 fee, they would like to see more of a progressive type tax—they want larger property owners to pay more.  The Governor doesn’t like either the $128 fee or Land Use Change Tax and has threatened to veto.  Tom Vickery, Darby Bradley and Steve Jeffrey will meet with the Governor to try to persuade him otherwise.

H.776—An Act Relating to Rental Housing—appears at this point to be dead. John Fike testified regarding Listers’ concerns that this collecting of information has nothing to do with the Listers responsibility to assess property.  In addition to the Listers concerns, the landlords association also came out in strong opposition against the bill.  However, there are still 4 days left before the end of the session, so something still could happen.

MH bills of sale—Legislation was proposed for possible changes in the amount of property tax which should be paid before a mobile home leaves town—bill appears to be dead.

VAST—The presence of a VAST trail should make no difference in value of a property unless it can be proven differently by sales.  The House, in the Miscellaneous Tax Bill, included a statement that the presence of a VAST trail could not affect the valuation of a property.   Since only one town had increased the value of a few properties because of the VAST trails, it was VALA’s position that this was a local issue and should be taken up with that town only, and not have legislation written that would affect the whole state.  It could also cause additional problems in that other groups would want to be given special consideration.   Randy has done a great job testifying before the Senate Finance Committee and relayed VALA’s position and the reasons for taking the position.

HYDRO’S—There is a possibility that the assessments on Hydro’s owned by CVPS, Green Mountain Power and Omya will be frozen at 2009 values.  Towns that host hydro facilities owned by these utilities received PV&R’S recommendations for value which were about half of what they were in 2009.  There has been discussion between the State and the utilities to do something to soften the impact of the reduction of values for at least a year to allow for some transition language–possibly a freeze using the 2009 values.  EDUCATION TAX—The House passed legislation to level fund but the Senate voted to raise the education tax by one cent. Basically the additional money will be used to address General Fund issues.  There is also a need for money for students eligible for Medicaid.  The appropriations bill would allow some of this money to be transferred to General Fund.  It is a shame that local schools who have worked hard to lower or level fund their budgets will still see a higher tax rate.

HS122—An amendment was made in the House for a one time only filing.  The Senate finance committee took out that language and put back in the requirement of annual filing.  Ultimately both houses have passed bills which would necessitate only a one time filing of the HS122.  Since it has passed both houses, it probably will pass and would be effective in 2011.

There should be language in the final bill that would address the reasons why a filing would be necessary—name change, etc.

BILL JOHNSON:  Steve covered most issues of interest and concern

HYDRO FREEZE:  2 issues with potential freeze.  Hydro’s owned by CVPS, Green Mtn Power & Omya— 5 years ago the State worked with them to come up with values using the income approach so that it could provide stability in valuation.  They didn’t foresee that the wholesale power market would get cut in half last year; therefore values dropped by half because income dropped by half.  In hind sight some provision should have made for this situation by using some type/form of averaging and looking forward to value rather than looking at past years.

We need to make changes in long run…in the short run, a possible freeze….the State wants to meet with as many  towns as possible as well as the utilities, Steve Jeffrey and others and see what kind of compromises can be made to come up with middle ground for this year.  Small towns would really take a major hit and would be hard for them to absorb the loss in revenue.  Bigger towns would not be faced with the same severity of the small towns.  PV&R will try to come up with a solution.

Values were stable or increasing at the time when values were set for the small hydro’s 5 yrs ago.  CVPS has just purchased the hydro dams from Omya Inc. for $33 million.  The State had valued these dams at $36 million last year, so the selling price does not reflect a 50% drop in value.

For the Trans Canada dams, we have retained George (Skip) Sansoucy to value the Trans Canada properties for the state.  He will have values by end of the month regardless of the potential freeze.  In terms of Trans Canada values —big time assessors use discounted cash flow rather than direct capitalization which was used.    They are able to do projections and make predictions as to what will happen in the future electric market.  Most people looking at the long term electricity market see recovery in the near future….now, it is a very depressed market—but should rebound fairly quickly. Bill has had discussions with Skip as to how he sees the world in terms of the electric market, now and in the future.  It is still hard to say, lots of uncertainty and variables.

There will be a meeting in WRJ later in the year with PV&R and Skip Sansoucy and anyone interested or affected.   Towns don’t have to use the value set any more than they have to use values submitted by utilities each year but would be on their own to defend value set by town.  Values submitted will be used in the equalization study whether it benefits the town or utility and will be defended by the State.

If there is a freeze, values will be frozen at last year’s figures….and those used in equalization study would be frozen as well.

Freeze will not be long term…will try to find a middle ground, perhaps a negotiated figure.

Bill was asked about the latest on Current Use values and the impression that Listers are over-valuing excluded land—

The Legislature wants a 2 year study committee for Current Use.  Tom Vickery will represent VALA in this committee.

One of prime issues that they want the committee to look at is the uniformity of value across towns, and the effect of conservation easements on value.

Bill is still looking for money to fund the completion of enhancements for CAMA and NEMRC.

LISTER CERTIFICATION:  Need to work on pushing this issue.  Need to come up with a way to give Listers some recognition for work they do and the education that is necessary for a job that is continually changing and increasing in responsibilities.  This could come from top down or from within the Lister community which would probably make more sense.  Listers often have little or no respect from local people or their Selectboards and they need to let these people know the range of their job and what kind of education is necessary to effectively perform it. It was noted that there is already a committee that includes VALA and PVR.

ERNIE SAUNDERS:  NEMRC

Ernie wanted to know VALA’s position on the release of data from the grand list and CAMA and the probable increase in requests for this information.

NEMRC            does not release any data without express permission from the towns.  This has always has been NEMRC’s policy and always will be.   Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), data is public information and because NEMRC backs up all information for the towns, requestors have been asking NEMRC for this information.

We have to give data but other side of coin is how easily do we make available the data requested?  Is it in a workable format for those requesting it?  It is not always easy for requestor to use data.  NEMRC is only a facilitator….how easily do Listers want to make it for requestors.  The data could be published on the website and let requestors take what they want from it.  NEMRC will do what Listers want.  Ernie has been working with First American, an escrow tax company to devise a means so that they don’t have to call towns as often; now that a payment file is downloaded and brings all of the tax payments in, this saves time in looking up individual tax bills.

First American would like an annual download of grand lists from every town.  NEMRC would like an agreement with them that this information would only be used for tax escrow servicing.

NEMRC also wants to do an agreement with individual towns stating that they are willing to provide this information to First American.

Sentiment among some Listers is that why should they provide information for free that has been paid for by taxpayer dollars.

Ernie’s question for VALA…..how should this data be made available…via website or some other means.

There has been a request from Real Data, a website for realtors, for all CAMA data to be downloaded in a format they can read.  They want information on each parcel.  NEMRC could write a program to do this.  Real Data want this data to sell.  If Listers are providing this information, then towns should get some remuneration.  Real Data says they want to create a win-win situation for them and towns…towns provide data and in return Real Data gives towns access to their files for sales studies.

Questions were raised about liability issues…..what responsibility, if any, do we have if the information we give out is incorrectly quoted, etc.

NEMRC has suggested charging a fee per page for those requesting information.  Ernie would like to see a law setting a charge for price of getting data.

PV&R charges for a download from the mainframe, raw data of PTTR information to about 5 companies who pay a very nominal fee. There are a few companies that charge the public to access this reformatted data for about $12/month. Lawyers, appraisers and realtors use this information. PV&R creates a state compilation of grand lists for which they receive a lot of requests. They also receive complaints that they can’t open or read the files yet the instructions are included on the disks.

Right now, all we can collect is the media cost.

Ernie suggested that VALA set up guidelines for a policy for publishing data with associated fees.  A committee made up of Mark Paulsen, Todd LeBlanc, Babs Lynde and John Fike plus an attorney from PV&R will work with Ernie to come up with guidelines for VALA to vote on. Included in the data that will be published, concerns about e911 confidentiality were expressed and discussion followed as to what specific areas need to be looked at to make sure that the requests for confidentiality were still being maintained.  Disclaimers will need attached to the data file.

Web browsing is a way of life, so it comes down to how we want to put the data out for the public to see

There was a law that only electronic data that could be released was the grand list—need to see if that law is still on the books.

E911 address—perhaps should be an article in newsletter about the use of the e911 addresses—the confidentiality issue.

APRIL NEWSLETTER:   Penny is working on putting it in a pdf file which will make it easier to download.  We need input from towns for subjects of interest; what is going on with Listers around the state; etc.  There has been much positive feedback on the Newsletter and Penny is already working on next issue.  Questions were raised as to the format, version of word, etc.

Pictures can be downloaded, so if anyone would like a photo included, e-mail it to Penny in Reading.   It will be posted to VALA website.

COMMITTEE REPORTS:

TODD—EDUCATION—In talking to representatives from UVM, one thing they mentioned was changing the times of year that the TOECs are held.  A committee will be formed to talk about that.   Need input from VALA whether or not to keep it in the middle of the grand list season, or move it to fall, or some other time.   They are also looking at revamping the program to make better…open to suggestions, so more people might attend.

Chris commented that there are many other meetings in the fall.  It will be put out on the List serve for feedback from Listers.

BYLAWS—GALEN:   NO REPORT

LEGISLATIVE:  Summer Study Committee on Current Use coming up, Tom Vickery will be VALA’s representative on this committee.

H.776—Hoped to pass under radar, but it didn’t happen because there were representatives who came to members of VALA expressing concerns about the effects of this legislation.  John Fike testified; Randy mentioned Marc McDonald who gave kudos to VALA for providing information to the legislature on this issue.

VAST—no one had information….Randy and John testified before House committee and Randy testified in the Senate.  A member of VAST had gone to the Listers looking for information about the $10,000 additional assessment of certain properties that had VAST trails, and the Listers would not give it.   When told the information was public, the person said they didn’t want to upset the Listers—they had no real facts, and didn’t want take time for grievance.  This was clearly a local Lister issue and they wanted to make a state law to address it.

It was a very busy legislative session and VALA did make itself heard.

MICROSOLVE;  working with Chris Miele on the residential property cards telling him problems we have run into, but the completion of the enhancements depends on the Legislature providing the money…need about $25,000 to finish these enhancements—State does not seem interested in improving a program that they are supporting.

Condos—ready to move forward with this part of the CAMA program.

NEW 411 form has been expanded and will be released soon. It has many improvements and will be easier to read.

Scott is doing a Webinar on Custom Report Writer, and Chris will tentatively offer one on the grievance process—from the flagging to the results of grievance. On the CAMA side, a Webinar to show the use of the browse and export features.

NEW PTTR FORM:  Looks good, good compromise of information and will be 1 ½ to 2 pages. Thus far there has been no resistance from the Legislature. The closing date will become the date to use rather than the recording date.  This new form is projected to be available by January 1.  Phased project; 1st the Town Clerks will get it, then the Listers as a read only.  Third phase could be a public viewing of document.  One great feature is that if all data is not entered, the form cannot be processed.  Town Clerks will get a message saying that a PTTR is coming and will stay in their queue until they acknowledge it.  The Listers will be able to see what transfers are pending.  The State will also be able to monitor pending PTTRs.

John introduced the speaker Bob Estey who is a New Hampshire Assessor and IAAO instructor and who has served in many capacities and on many committees during his career.  Bob’s topic was Lister Certification.

He commented on the importance of Lister Certification and the recognition that it could provide for the work that Lister’s do as well as the levels of education that Listers have achieved.  He related to the group the certification process of assessors in New Hampshire and the criteria that the New Hampshire Association of Assessing Officials has set for certification.  After Bob’s presentation, there was time for questions and answers.

Respectfully submitted,

Carol Hammond,

VALA Secretary

Next meeting—July 7, 2010


ATTENDEES

Name Town County
Ed Clodfelter Calais Washington
Michelle Wilson PV&R
Lisa Truchon Lincoln Addison
Randy Viens Essex Chittenden
Steve Jeffrey VLCT
Penny Allyn Reading Windsor
Joyce Scribner Manchester Bennington
Pauline Moore Manchester Bennington
Camilla Roberts Rockingham Windham
Ernie Saunders NEMRC
Mark Paulsen PV&R
Babs Lynde Westminster Windham
Galen E Mudgett, Jr Sharon Windsor
Phyllis Newton Vernon Windham
David Alexander Brookfield Orange
Patricia Rea Brookfield Orange
Virginia Nix Barnard Windsor
Barbara Sammon Barnard Windsor
Bruce Shields Eden Lamoille
Chris Miele NEMRC
David Tanner PV&R
Don Swetser Randolph Orange
Clarissa Holmes Hartford Windsor
John Wetzel Fairlee Orange
Noel Walker Fairlee Orange
Bill Johnson PV&R
Tom Vickery Stowe Lamoille
Todd LeBlanc S Burlington Chittenden
Pat French Randolph Orange
John Fike Reading Windsor
Louise Ferris-Burt Bethel Windsor
Carol Hammond Vernon Windham
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