Vermont’s annual property tax cycle is under way, and each year property owners— towns, individuals, and institutions alike—navigate issues concerning property valuation and property tax exemptions. Here is important information towns and property owners should know. 

Town Listers: Town Listersare public officials who assess the fair market value of the real estate in their towns to determine each property owner’s tax burden. Listers are duty bound to abide by the tax laws defined by Vermont’s Legislature and understand and implement Vermont’s various property tax exemptions.  By June 4th or June 24th (depending on the town’s population), Listers must (1) draw up and lodge the preliminary grand list with the Town Clerk, and (2) notify property owners of any change in the appraised value of their property. 

Property Tax Determinations: Listers’ property tax determinations are subject to scrutiny by individual property owners as well as by the Vermont Department of Taxes’ Division of Property Valuation and Review (PVR). Therefore, in making their assessments, Listers should provide clear, written explanations to support their decisions. With Vermont’s state-wide education property tax, towns need to keep in mind that the State can disagree with a town’s determination regarding a property’s tax-exempt status. If the State disagrees with the town’s determination, there is the risk the town could be obligated to pay the state-education portion of the property tax to the State even though it is not collecting the property tax from the property owner.

Challenging Tax Determinations: The Listers’ annual property tax assessments and the tax appeals process help ensure that property owners pay their proportional share of taxes. Property owners can appeal a change in their property’s appraisal if they disagree with the value of the appraisal or believe the property should be tax-exempt. The appeals period that is dictated by strict deadlines begins as soon as the Lister’s notice of change in appraisal is sent to the property owner.

First, if a property owner disagrees with a Lister’s determination, the property owner must file a written grievance with the town’s Board of Listers by the date of the grievance hearing (on the notice of change in appraisal). Failure to timely file an appeal to the Board usually results in a waiver of the opportunity to appeal. During the grievance hearing, the property owner must present evidence to show that the Listers’ appraisal is in error. For example, to demonstrate that a property has been appraised for more than fair market value, a property owner needs to present evidence of comparable properties with lower appraisals, and may need to enlist the assistance of an independent real estate appraiser. To prove that a property should be tax-exempt as a matter of law, the property owner needs to present evidence that the property meets the qualifications of one of Vermont’s property tax exemptions.

Second, if the property owner disagrees with the Board of Listers’ grievance result, the property owner may appeal the determination to the town’s Board of Civil Authority (BCA) by filing a notice of appeal to the BCA with the Town Clerk within 14 days of the date the Board of Listers mailed the grievance result. As part of this appeal process, members of the BCA must visit and inspect each property being appealed, and a property owner’s refusal to permit the inspection will cause the appeal to be withdrawn.

Third, if the property owner contests the BCA’s decision, the property owner may appeal the determination to either the Superior Court or the Division of Property Valuation and Review of the Vermont Department of Taxes.

Resource: Because issues regarding property valuation and tax exemptions can be technical, Town Listers and property owners may benefit by consulting with an attorney, and they may also want to consult with the Handbook on Property Tax Assessment Appeals, published by the Vermont Secretary of State’s Office.