Feral housing' comes to Vermont

Passed in 1997, Act 60 states that "the property tax rate in each town is adjusted by the common level of appraisal (CLA) for that town's school district. The CLA helps to equalize how much towns pay, essentially by adjusting the appraised value of a house by looking at recent sale prices in town in comparison to the appraised values. If the appraised values are below the sale prices, the CLA raises the tax rate, and if the prices are below the appraised values, the CLA lowers the tax rate. This is done so that properties that have not been reappraised in several years are not able to pay lower taxes than a similarly valued home that was more recently reappraised."

In the case of Act 68, Vermont property is divided into four classes for purposes of school taxation: 1. Residential property rate, 2. Housesite income-based rate, 3. Housesite assessment reduction, and 4. Nonresidential property rate.

Without delving into the arcane details of both Acts 60 and 68, one can easily argue that there are lots of "negative incentives" that would result in some homeowners actually running down their properties to reduce their annual tax bills. A lower house value means lower taxes. But to say that all feral houses in Vermont are the results of Acts 60/68, as Behr suggests in his commentary, is not totally accurate.

In some cases, perhaps, out-of-state or even in-state individuals may be wrestling with the fate of a family homestead or they might be delaying a decision about what to do with a particular property for personal reasons-should the family sell the place or keep it for later family use, such as retirement home. Still, there is some logic in going feral: why improve your property if it's only going to be hit up for higher taxes? At some point, pride of homeownership could give way to simple economic reality.

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