MESSAGE FROM MONTPELIER
Legislative Report from Rep. Dennis Devereux
for Ludlow, Mount Holly, and Plymouth
My article last spring mentioned that a large part of our committee’s efforts this winter will deal with reapportionment. Any changes to legislative districts will use the most recent census figures. Generally, there has been a shift with population gains to towns in Chittenden and Franklin Counties.
Our Committee on Government Operations started reviewing the steps required to finalize the process by the end of the session. We have been holding hearings around the state for input to the proposed district changes. I sense there will be an attempt to make minimal adjustments to the current map that also approaches the new population target. It is my understanding is that our committee plans to get a preliminary bill out of the house by the end of January. The reality is that small towns are more likely to be realigned to create new districts.
One of the ongoing concerns to towns is the question surrounding the abatement of property taxes for people that had property damaged this year. The problem started with high water to properties along Lake Champlain last spring, then continued with the flooding in central Vermont in June, and ended with the destruction caused by Tropical Storm Irene at the end of August. A bill to address this dilemma was voted out of the Ways and Means Committee at the end of October. It would set up a process for towns to receive reimbursement by the Commissioner of Taxes for payments that are owed under our education funding formula. The abatement costs would be spread to all property taxpayers rather than be put onto only those towns devastated by the storm.
The loss would have to be at least 50% of the value of the primary structure on the property, and the loss of use must be for 90 days or more. It would have to be caused by a federally declared disaster through April 2012. The school and municipal taxes would have to be abated equally, and the Boards of Abatement can reconsider decisions previously made. Towns may request a delay in their scheduled education payments by contacting the State Treasurer. The Department of Taxes plans to also send instructions to towns. The cost of this help will come from the Education Reserve Fund. This bill will be acted on soon after we return, and is expected to have wide support and be quickly signed into law.
A local issue is whether or not the Plymouth State Park will be ready to open by the end of May. The regional parks manager, Ethan Phelps, assures me that there is a plan to complete the repairs in time. The streams have already been restored, and the bidding process for repairs to the beach area has begun. He stated that the buildings will also need some work. This total damage estimate has been put at $250,000, and should qualify for FEMA money. They will also need the weather to cooperate next spring.