By Guy Page
The Joint Fiscal Office of the Vermont Legislature Aug. 13 published a list of the 2020 school tax rates for every town.
The listing shows both “equalized” and non-equalized homeowner and non-homeowner school tax rate in every town. It does not compare the 2020 school tax rate with the 2019 rate, nor does it list the municipal (non-school) tax rate.
In other words, the document doesn’t tell you everything about next year’s tax bill, but it still tells you plenty. For example, you might think that the highest tax rates were in Chittenden County, with its wealthy residents demanding deluxe schools. After all, it is the accepted premise, among many Vermont legislators (including some from Vermont’s wealthiest county), that the wealthy should help the less fortunate by paying higher tax rates.
But that turns out not to be the case. The highest Chittenden County tax rate is Burlington’s 1.50%. The rest of the towns and cities are a few percentage points below. (Not that Chittenden County doesn’t also have substantial school tax bills. Tax rate is just one component of the bill, the other is assessed value. Chittenden County has some of the most expensive housing in Vermont.)
The three towns with the highest tax rates in Vermont all begin with “W” and none of them are Chittenden’s Winooski, Williston or Westford. In fact, they are about as far from Chittenden County as you can get and still be in Vermont. They are all located in Windham County, as if that economically depressed, drug-plagued county didn’t have enough problems: Windham (2.25% “equalized education rate” of assessed value of property) is #1. According to Sperling’s the median price of a house in Windham is $216,000. Therefore the median 2020 school tax rate in Windham (unadjusted for any reductions) would be $5,400 (2.25% x $216,000).
Wilmington and Whitingham are tied for second with 2.03%. Windham County towns of Newfane and Townshend also made the top 22 towns with the highest school tax rates.
As it happens, none of the top 22 tax-rate towns are located in Chittenden County. At least three are affluent Dartmouth University bedroom towns (Thetford, Norwich, West Fairlee) in Windsor County, where more homeowners can both afford high taxes and are predisposed to support spending on education. But #4 on the list is the Northeast Kingdom town of Victory (1.94) – known less for prosperity and more for bitter infighting in local government. Five merged Washington County towns (Berlin, East Montpelier, Calais, Middlesex, Worcester) also made the list.
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.