by Robert Maynard
Peter Hirschfeld of the Vermont Press Bureau is following up on Governor Shumlin’s sweet land deal by noting that “Jeremy Dodge’s income is below the federal poverty level.” This observation prompted the obvious qurstion: “So why was his tax bill last year almost $5k?” Before digging into his analysis of this contradiction, here is a clarification of a possible confusion associated with Yesterday’s TNR post on how Jeremy Dodge is now feeling that he was taken advantage of in the deal. Yesterday’s post noted that Mr. Dodge had told WCAX that Governor Shumlin had told him not to talk to the press about the deal and pointed out the confrontation the Governor had over the details of an East Montpelier land dea last yearl. That gave the impression that these were the same deals. One of our readers pointed out that they appear to be two separate deals.
Here is an excerpt from Peter Hirschfeld’s line of questioning:
Vermont’s progressive tax code reduces the obligations of lower-income homeowners by limiting their burden to a percentage of their annual income. Residents’ ability to avail themselves of “income sensitivity,” however, requires them file a “homestead declaration” with the Vermont Department of Taxes, something Dodge apparently failed to do.
Between 2010 and 2012, according to state records, no one filed a homestead declaration on the Dodge property. Dodge, who says he never made more than $10,000 in each of those years, was charged full freight on property taxes as a result. His bill for tax year 2012 – the property was at that point appraised at $233,700 – came in at $4,597.11.
Income sensitivity would have cut the bill to a fraction of that amount – the law limits property-tax bills of low-income homeowners’ to about 5 percent of annual income. According to East Montpelier town records, Dodge assumed ownership of the property deed in 2009, after which the delinquent taxes began piling up.
The article then goes on to point out that the Governor most likely knew this and could have helped the down on his luck Jeremy Dodge get his tax bill down to a manageable amount. Of course, had he done so, Mr. Dodge might just still be the owner of the property. So, pursuing the decent and humane coarse of action could have stood in the way of the Governor obtaining the property. In fact, not only did he fail to consider helping his neighbor get a tax break but, according to Wednesday’s WCAX article, he proceeded after the sale to push for a tax break for himself:
“Obviously, he got a very good deal,” said Ross Hazel, East Montpelier’s head lister. “He got the whole property for less than what the land is worth.”
Hazel says after the governor bought Dodge’s place, Shumlin wanted his taxes lowered.
“He did suggest that, you know, this was a worthless property and it isn’t worth what we had it in for,” Hazel said.
Hazel reassessed the property, slashing its appraised value by $93,000.
“I took the value down to the cost of the foundation,” Hazel said. “It’s unusual to see something drop that far.”
Hazel denies Shumlin got special treatment, but admits it was hard to ignore that he’s the state’s leader.
I would appear that, in Governor Shumlin’s mind, “Putting people first” means putting Peter Shumlin first.