By Kim Jackson
Special To The Standard
Town clerks in Woodstock and surrounding towns may see an increase in tax abatement requests this fall due to the loss and destruction of property caused last month by Tropical Storm Irene. However, a request does not guarantee tax abatement.
According to Vermont’s law regarding the Abatement of Taxes (24 V.S.A. 1533), a town’s Board of Tax Abatement (BTA), made up of the listers, the select board, justices of the peace, the town clerk, and the town treasurer, “may abate in whole or part taxes, interest, and collection fees…in the following cases:… (5) taxes upon real or personal property lost or destroyed during the tax year.” There are about a half a dozen cases as to why a property owner may choose to request a tax abatement, but number five is applicable to the recent flooding in Vermont.
“We’ve had one or two requests so far from people,” said Woodstock Town Clerk Jay Morgan. “Vermont law says the tax is based on what exists on April 1 every year. If something existed on April 1, you owe a tax on it for that year. But because of the somewhat obvious inequity, say your house was there on April 1 and later on it burns down so your house is no longer there, if you never rebuild it during that year, should you pay taxes on it?”
Morgan said the abatement process is an extremely public one, due in part because any tax that is abated must be paid by remaining tax payers in the town. The process is also a stringent one, where each individual requestor has to prove the circumstances of his or her case, show the whys and what the reasons are for submitting a request for abatement.
“Any tax that is abated has to be paid by everyone else, so you have to make sure that it’s a correct and equitable thing,” said Morgan. Those abated taxes that are absorbed by the remaining tax payers include the education tax portion to the state.
Property owners seeking to request abatement must first file their request in the form of a letter with the town clerk. Town’s individually decide how to handle requests. Depending on the number of requests, the town may decide to hear each one individually or as a group. There are no deadlines, and a request can be made at any time, said Morgan.
“Technically the board does not have to grant anything,” said Morgan. “It’s an attempt to make taxation fairer, to address grievance, to do good things. You have to prove to the board that what the amount should be or why and what the circumstances are. The burden of proof is on the person requesting abatement. The tax abatement process is all the time, every year. It has a specific set of rules and regulations. It’s a hearing process.”
Woodstock held a public meeting Wednesday night to discuss the possible abatement issues that may arise as a result of Irene’s destruction. The Bridgewater town clerk’s office is answering people’s questions individually as they arise. Property owners with questions about the tax abatement process should seek out their town clerk or members of their town’s Board of Tax Abatement.
Further information can be found in the “About Abatement” document found on the Vermont Secretary of State’s website.
This article first appeared in the September 29th print edition of the Vermont Standard.