VALA GENERAL MEETING MINUTES
MARCH 5, 2014
The meeting was called to order by President John Fike.
Legislative Committee Tom Vickery:
VALA had taken a position a year ago to support the House version of making changes to the Current Use Program, H.329, which was also supported by the Current Use Coalition. The bill passed the House but not the Senate. They had meetings around the state this summer and then presented their own version of the bill.
The senate is looking for revenue. Reimbursements to towns are $12 million /yr. They feel that Listers in some towns are overstating value and getting higher reimbursements from state. In reality it could be the case, inadvertently, but it does happen, especially farm buildings, not listing the contributory value of them. Small towns don’t have the means to determine what the contributory value of barns is.
Legislative Committee Members Tom Vickery and Randy Viens testified before the Senate Agriculture Committee on the Senate version of the Current Use Bill and brought out the main points of controversy which are:
- According to the senate version, the problem lies with Listers. PV&R should audit 10 towns per year to see whether or not the job is being done correctly and to come up with recommendations to do the job better.
- There is no penalty in the senate version
- A cap on any property that has a value of $3,000 to $5,000 per acre—property owner will pay tax over and above the cap.
- Difference between current use program being used for farmland and forestland or for protection—use value does not measure protection value and people who put land into current use for protection get a higher benefit than actual farmers or forestland owners.
In meeting with the Coalition, Tom Vickery and Randy Viens suggested capping the benefit for land put in the Current Use program for protection the same as for farmland and forest land—80%. This would be uniform throughout the state rather than a dollar capping suggested by the senate which would address only a few towns.
The coalition didn’t want to go in that direction because they don’t trust the legislature because they could change values from year to year, thus further skewing the program.
- The floating acres—valuing at fair market value vs. average value per acre.
Tom Vickery asked if VALA would like the Legislative Committee to pursue recommending changes to the Current Use program that would be outside the Coalition’s standing.
Do we want to change our stance as VALA? Should we give testimony to address some of these issues?
President John Fike emphasized the importance of contacting the legislators with opinions.
Public input, letter, phone calls, emails, etc., carries more weight than Listers who are sometimes treated as just another interest group. We do have impact, but the legislators seem to put more importance on what their constituency says.
PV&R Director Bill Johnson said that the senate is now looking at only 5 towns per year. The intent is to catch towns that are intentionally or unintentionally overvaluing land so as to increase the pilot payments. The towns would have to be audited, PVR would have to go into a town and do a large sampling, check on comparable properties….it would take a lot of time, an intense process…farm buildings could be the larger issue.
The $12 million reimbursement to towns is the bottom line that the Senate is looking at.
The direction from VALA is for the Legislative Committee to continue to get the best deal they can for Listers and the Current Use Program.
Vice President Todd LeBlanc recommended keeping things simple as possible for Listers.
Legislative Committee Member Randy Viens as well as PV&R Bill Johnson discussed solar issues. Last year the Legislature taxed $4 per kW on the education side, and this year proposed to extend the $4/to municipal side as well. The flat $4/kw is not fair and equitable due to the differences between fixed arrays and trackers, and that there are different tax rates in different towns. The best way is to stay with Sandia model and maintain fairness and equity for everyone.
There is a change in the size requirement—the minimum is now 50kw rather than 10 kw as was proposed last year with a 50 kw exemption if net metering. This will take effect January 1, 2015. Listers will receive training on the Sandia model. Once value is set, it doesn’t have to be changed even if a reappraisal is done.
Subsidized Housing discussion included: The Housing Conservation Board would like assessed values reduced by 30%; this figure is based on the grants received. They were 30% of market, so they used that value. This would mean quite a drop in revenue for towns that have a lot of subsidized housing units.
They would like to redefine fair market value to equal the sales prices. That would mean that the value of the building would change with every sale. The board doesn’t seem to realize the connection between grand list and tax rate and that when values go down, the income sensitivity goes down as well.
Sharing cost of appeals—2 bills have been presented to address the issue, H.87 in 2013 which proposed the prorating the cost of appeals beyond the BCA, and H.700, which proposed “…lowering the threshold for towns seeking reimbursement from the state after a property tax valuation is lowered as a result of an appeal.” H.87 was presented in 2013 and didn’t go anywhere. To share in any loss in taxes between state and municipal. Rep. Janet Ancel is the roadblock in getting these bills to gain any momentum.
Basically, the state gets their money whether the town wins or loses. Towns are foregoing appeals because the results are not worth the cost of fighting the appeal. Rep. Ancel doesn’t want the education to take any hit. Manchester Lister Pauline Moore said she had checked with a legislator who was backing the bill, and his comment was that it was hopeless. What appears to be not understood is that if the value is lowered the education fund will still take a hit, just a year later.
The town pays for loss to education fund. If the state would just pay that part it would help. Towns pay legal fees for both municipal and education sides, plus any expert witnesses.
Cell Towers: Appraiser CY Bailey said that AT&T sold in Dec. 2013, ninety-seven hundred cell towers at $500,000 each to Crown Castle Inc which is a holding company…$4.85 billion dollars. He suggested Listers should look at values on cell towers in their towns. Listers need from PV&R to say that towers are taxable as real property. Charles Merriman put out a bulletin on cell towers, revised by Susan Monte that towers are real property on grand list especially if they own the land under the cell tower. It gets a little more complicated when they lease the land….perhaps then they would be treated as personal property. Christie stated the importance of reading the lease to see if they have to take down the tower at the end of the lease. If that is the case, it would be considered personal property.
There were other concerns as to whether the cable company is really a telephone company and then would be billed by the state, and if the person receiving the lease money is being taxed on income derived from the rent.
Education Committee Member John Vickery discussed PV&R’s Equalization Study……..what we can do to make it less volatile. John will be meeting with PV&R Director Bill Johnson to try to find some common areas for discussion. Biggest problem is that there is a trigger on the down side but not on the upside.
Incoming PV&R Director Jim Knapp discussed tax mapping and stated that nothing useful has happened; there is no resolution for the cost of maintenance.
Bellows Fall/Rockingham Lister Camilla Roberts—TransCanada appeals—a group of towns have been meeting with Windham Regional Commission, trying to figure out the effect of the CLA on the towns that have TransCanada property. Right now, towns have to accept the state’s value because of the cost of fighting the appeals. TransCanada represents 95 % of the town of Somerset’s grand list and 47% of Bellows Falls village’s grand list. The group is going to be working on an essay outlining the problems which also enter into the CLA issue and hoping for legislation that may be able to help.
Bradford lowered TransCanada’s value, and a question was raised as to how that might affect values in other towns—ripple effect.
Towns that do not have the expertise in handling utility issues want the State to take over the assessment of the dams, so the towns do not have to deal with associated costs of appeals. If state does not assess utilities more often than once in 10 years, in a volatile energy market, the values can quickly get out of whack from that value of the state and no support that it is now a more valuable asset in a town. There needs to be some kind of mechanism in place for an appeal process for a town to be able to step out and fight that state/utility set value. Very complex issue.
IAAO/NEMRC Ed Clodfelter announced that the NE regional meeting of IAAO will be held in Atlantic City on May 18-21. Good conference to attend.
CAMA—PR&R has some money available for further enhancements, plus a comparative sale state wide data base. Enhancements need to be done first.
NEMRC—Grand List seminars are held the last two weeks of March. There will be one in Fairlee, two in Rutland and one in Burlington. Chris emphasized that Listers are not done their work until December 31.
Question was raised for discussion: why there is no representation from VALA on the VLCT board. There never has been. VALA is normally on board with VLCT. There are rules against it, nothing in the bylaws to allow Listers on the VLCT board. There is more flexibility for VALA by not being on the VLCT Board.
The meeting adjourned at 12:07 P.M.
Carol Hammond, Secretary