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School Tax Rate to Rise 8.3 Percent

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Union Elementary School. Photo by Carla Occaso

Board members of the Montpelier Roxbury Public Schools district are expected this week to approve a budget that would add 14.4 cents to the city’s educational tax rate. The board will meet Jan. 20 to approve the $25.7 million FY2022 budget proposal that will go before voters on Town Meeting Day.

School officials were concerned about earlier versions of the budget that projected a 17.9 cent increase in Montpelier’s school tax rate. The revised plan reflects the use of $150,000 more ($400,000 total) in budget reserves to offset spending increases and assumes a slightly less dire reduction in anticipated state funding. An original projection of a $235-per-pupil drop in state funding was modified to $100.

Grant Geisler, Business Manager for MRPS, said school officials were not comfortable seeking an increase greater than 10 percent. As a result of revenue shortfalls caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Tax Commissioner Craig Bolio has warned that school tax bills would rise by about 9 percent statewide.

“We have prepared a new budget that would result in an 8.3 percent increase in Montpelier’s residential tax rate,” Geisler said. “That increase is down from the 10.2 percent increase in the prior version of the budget.”

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The table above shows the Montpelier residential property tax bill increases that will occur if the latest municipal and school budgets are adopted and pass and all other ballot items are approved, including petitioned requests. The increase in the total tax bills from the current tax year would be about 5.2 percent. Most Montpelier homeowners receive state property tax credits that reduce their property tax bills; the figures above reflect the proposed increases for those who do not receive any of these credits.

If approved by voters on March 2, Montpelier school tax bills would increase $288 on a home appraised at $200,000 (see chart for comparison). Roxbury property taxpayers would see a reduction of $129 on a home appraised at $200,000. Montpelier’s tax rate would increase from $1.726 to $1.87 per $100 of assessed home value.

Overall spending increases 2.8 percent, or $709,494, over FY2021 under the plan, and education spending would increase by about 2 percent, $379,574. The budget contains no reduction in teaching staff.

The 14.4 cent increase in the tax rate breaks down this way: 3.1 cents for the increase in education spending; 1.2 cents due to a drop in equalized pupils; 2.4 cents due to the drop in the state yield; 2.4 cents because of a decline in the state incentive for merging with Roxbury; and 5.3 cents due to the state’s Common Level of Appraisal (CLA) adjustment.

Montpelier’s CLA came in at 84.44 percent, down from 86.86 percent last year, reflecting rising property values. Roxbury’s CLA jumped from 97.64 percent last year to 102.19 percent this year, reflecting declining property values. Because of its CLA adjustment, Roxbury’s residential school tax rate will drop 4 percent, from $1.61 to $1.54 per $100 of assessed value.

The CLA is a measure of the average assessed property value in a town compared with fair market value. A CLA of 0.85 means the average property is assessed at 85 percent of fair market value. The CLA is calculated by the state each year and used to make sure education taxes are fair from town to town by adjusting the actual education tax rate used in each town.

This is the fourth budget to be presented to residents of the two communities since the Montpelier and Roxbury school districts voted to merge in 2017. For the first time, the budget document depicts the per-pupil cost of running the four schools in the district and reflects the imbalance in running a small school. 

The per-pupil cost to operate Roxbury Village School, with its 32 students, is $33,382 a year, markedly higher than Union Elementary ($21,925), Main Street Middle School ($19,863), and Montpelier High School ($23,158).

Roughly two-thirds of Vermont property taxpayers receive state credits toward their tax bills based on income.

City Tax Rate Would Rise a Fraction

City Councilors left the $14.7 million municipal budget as is during their meeting Jan. 13. The FY2022 budget calls for an increase in the tax rate of 0.7 cents to $1.1955. The overall budget proposal is more than $371,000 below last year’s budget.

During a public hearing on the budget Jan. 13, about a dozen residents expressed concern about a roughly $150,000 increase in General Fund spending for police operations. Following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police last summer, several residents have questioned why the city pays $2.2 million on policing.

City Manager Bill Fraser said the increase represents a transfer of funding obligations from other sources, such as parking receipts, to the General Fund. Some of the police budget was derived from those sources, which have shriveled under the COVID-19 pandemic.

Councilors said they are committed to a broader discussion of community policing and are expected to name members of a newly created Police Review Committee at the next meeting on Thursday, Jan. 21. 

It is virtually certain that Town Meeting Day ballots will be mailed to all Montpelier residents ahead of the March 2 election.