A real Vermont tax revolt

Fellow Vermonters, I have finally devised a means by which we can get the entire property tax problem under control. Using my powerfully trained brain, I have come up with the ultimate means of brining down property taxes: bring down property values. Not only that, I would propose a time tested means of lowering property values, one which was a tradition long before the time of the Great Vermonter (Gov. Aiken). I speak of the one truly traditional Vermont means of property value control: lack of maintenance. I call on all of you to stop mowing those manicured lawns, stop clearing the brush, stop hauling those junk cars away. Return the hardscrabble look. Those of you who have resided in Vermont long enough to remember JFK skiing in Stowe (or those who have driven off the beaten path in the Northeast Kingdom this year) will surely remember how our places used to look. Weather beaten, falling down fences abounded. Piles of this and that (those are official terms for used building materials) were scattered about dirt yards. Why, you could sometimes drive for miles without seeing a single blade of grass scarred by a lawnmower. While some of those from away took these sights as a sign of laziness on the part of natives, the truth can finally now be revealed. It was a planned conspiracy. I am not quite sure what genius made the realization, but not long after property taxes came into being, someone figured out that neat yards and white fences surrounding a freshly painted house equated to extra value, therefore higher taxes. In the true pioneer spirit of Vermonters, this unsung hero threw away his brushes, gave his hammer and nails a rest, parked his lawn mower, and went fishing for a couple of years. Low and behold, when his next tax bill came, his property values had gone down. Not only that, he had saved a substantial sum by not doing the maintenance. Being the generous type, he shared this knowledge with neighbors. Soon, decay and blight covered the countryside, taxes were affordable, and the men were much more relaxed for not having an endless list of chores to do. It is our duty to revive this honorable tradition. If you are unfortunate enough to own a home which has maintenance free siding, such as aluminum or vinyl, you can still participate. Simply tear all the siding off the house, and be sure to throw it in a pile, not a neat stack, in the yard. If there is nothing but Tyvek underneath, all the better. You have finely sculpted shrubs and carefully laid out flower gardens? Not to worry, they will look like wild scrub brush and weeds after just a couple of seasons of carefully planned non-maintenance. Should your neighbors complain, try as patiently as you can to explain that you are doing them a favor. They too will benefit from lower property values thanks to you. Dont be surprised if they join in. I envision entire upscale suburban neighborhoods turning back to traditional Vermont non-maintenance plans. But wait, you say, this is all well and good, but I want to sell my house someday. I want maximum value. Ahhh, here is the truly devious part of the plan. Start a savings account. As the taxes drop due to your new non-maintenance plan, deposit the savings in the account. At the properly timed moment (after the tax assessor has made the rounds), use the savings to do all the maintenance you have deferred and sell. Fast! All in all, I think this is the type of quiet rebellion Vermonters could really get behind. The next step is forming a group with a snappy name to promote the idea, like Taking Rebellion Against Sided Houses in Vermont. TRASH Vermont could be the next big movement here. Bumpers stickers will be available soon, Im sure. If you are truly inspired by this concept, I have created a few simple ideas to help you get started Never throw anything away except garbage. If you truly want to lower your property value, you must get over the whole notion of neatness. Chaos and disorder is what you are looking for, and the more of it in the yard, the better. Become a consummate builder. By that I mean, build storage shacks wherever possible. Many small storage sheds, as poorly constructed as possible, will detract greatly from your property value. If you are too skilled at carpentry to accomplish this, enlist the assistance of friends who are completely unfamiliar with even the most rudimentary building techniques. A couple of cases of free beer should help the process along. Think of old cars as fine wine. The yard is your wine cellar. Aging them to maximum ugliness is a process that takes time, so be patient. Rome didnt collapse in a day, you know. Take advantage of changing technology. Old computers, and soon, analog televisions, can greatly detract from property value if properly used. I suggest a minimum of three T.V.s and two computers on the front porch, but always remember, more is better. If your mailman threatens to stop delivering because of the obstacle course on the porch, you are doing well. Just clear a path. Never, ever give in to the evil temptations of cable T.V. like DIY Network, This Old House, or anything involving home improvement. Instead, I suggest a steady diet of reruns of Green Acres on T.V. Land. So, are you with me? Ready to venture forth into our brave new Vermont? If you think it will be easy, you are very wrong. You will be tempted to mow the lawn when the in-laws come to visit. You will face the wrath of the beautifiers of the world. You may even have to take the name of Lady Bird Johnson in vain. Remember, ours is a good cause, a just cause, a noble cause. Trash on, people, trash on! Paul Cook lives in Cornwall, Vt. He is an adjunct professor of politcial science at Vermont Community College. This article originally appeared in Livin' the Vermont Way magazine. To learn more about the magazine, visit www.livinmagazine.com. For a free trial issue, call 802-879-2013.

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