What do we get for our taxes asks a QLLA member. I reply.

I got into an email dialog with a fellow member this week about taxes, and here is that dialog:

Is Quechee Lakes taxed differently from the rest of town?

No. All properties in Hartford are taxed the same way.

If so, does it apply to all of Quechee or just QLLA properties? What’s the differential? Are Quechee and/or QLLA residents treated differently in any way when it comes to Town of Hartford taxes?

No. There is no distinction when it comes to QLLA properties.

Are taxes really higher for second homeowners or some other non-resident or non-voter status? If so, what’s the distinction and what’s the differential?

School district and town are two different governments.

Town taxes are identical for all properties, 78.73 cents per hundred of assessed value, or $787.30 per $100,000

School taxes are not levied by the school district. They are levied by the State of Vermont and collected by the town. The state distinguishes between residential properties (primary residence and up to two acres of land) and non-residential properties (everything else). The legislature sets two base rates, respectively, the homestead rate (94 cents per hundred) and the non-residential rate (99 cents per hundred). To these base rates the state applies an algorithm that takes into account the local school district per-pupil spending and the “common level of appraisal,” which is to say how close to market the town’s Grand List is (to prevent towns from gaming the system by having artificially low or incorrectly high assessed values). After applying the formula to Hartford, the rates are $1.38 for residential property and $1.45 for non-residential property, or 7 cents difference, $70 per hundred thousand of assessed value.

Altogether, residential properties are paying $2.16 this year, up 5% from last year’s $2.06; for non-residents it is $2.24 up from last year’s $2.18. Percentage wise, the non-resident properties are up less this year, under 4%.

Folks are really concerned at the property tax level here in Quechee and most don’t put any demand on schools.

It is long settled in this country that public education benefits everyone, not just parents of children in school. I don’t understand why people say this instead of taking strong satisfaction in being successful enough to be able to contribute toward the education of children in more than one location in this country.

In many cases, it’s the largest cost of living here. We don’t have municipal trash pick-up.

No, but curbside recycling is free and the town has spent a considerable amount of money upgrading the roads in Quechee and putting them on a proper maintenance cycle, something that wasn’t true 20 years ago when we were more ignored than not.

I was at the Club a couple of months ago and the fire alarm went off. It took ~30 minutes to get a crew and apparatus here. Some longtime members joked “they save a lot of foundations in Quechee”.

I will check with Chief Locke about this incident. I doubt the story is that simple or the time that long, but I’ll check and find out what his records say. {Note:actually 13 minutes from the time of the call to equipment on the scene}

Water is billed separately at seemingly high rates.

Well, we have a water and waste-water infrastructure that is first class and will serve us wonderfully for a generation or two — and support Section 5b if it ever comes to pass (with some additional build out of course). Not only that, but our town staff managed to get a few million in grants so the operation did not actually have to pay 100 cents on the dollar for the capital equipment in place. The philosophy behind the billing is that every user has to pay the full cost of being prepared to get all the water they might need at any time, and then the incremental cost of the delivered unit is relatively inexpensive. This means people who hardly use their water get bills that seem unreasonable because they use such a small amount of water. But that doesn’t mean the philosophy behind the billing is wrong or unfair. If you have a second home and you hardly use it, one of the expenses you have in the Quechee Water and Quechee Waste Water systems is paying for it to be ready for you to start using in full at any given moment.

What are we getting for our tax dollar?


How did the bridge financing ever come out? As I recall, there was a bond issue based on some professional estimates only to find bids far exceeded the bond issue. Do I recall that correctly?

No, not at all. The bids came in about $200,000 over the 2.1 million budgeted. We selected a contractor, negotiated with the architectural firm and got them to reduce their fee $100,000, took about $50,000 out of the project on things like the guard rails (plain steel instead of wood over steel cables), the lighting system, etc., and used $50,000 out of our $1.7 million undesignated fund balance. We wound up getting additional funding from FEMA on top of the 40% the Federal Highway Administration was in for. When we tore up the old bridge we discovered significant corrosion in the old steel girders that would have doomed the bridge within 5 years (it was already 10 years past its 70 year service life), so in the ordinary course of events the bridge would have cost the town the full 2.3 million. Because of Irene, it only cost local taxpayers 1.2 million, of which 1.150 million is in the form of a 20 year bond. While unfortunate the bids came in high to begin with, at the end of the day the actual incremental cost was tiny.

If so, that feels like some major mismanagement by someone. How did the differential play into our taxes?

It didn’t because the differential was paid for out of prior year surpluses retained for these kinds of emergencies. The town is very well managed (although some have problems with the town manager’s style).

What can be done to get our taxes and water rates down?

As a result of the 5 year reassessment completed this past spring, QLLA residents will pay about $500,000 less in town and school taxes combined for FY 2014 (July 1 2013 – June 30 2014). Absent this hit to the town revenue, the town tax rate would only have gone up 2.1%. Virtually every QLLA property went down more than 5% (yes, a few didn’t, mainly those with significant upgrades since 2007), and so QLLA owners should see several hundred dollars off their tax bill and some will see as much as $2500, perhaps more. In effect, QLLA will collectively save a half-million a year every year for at least the next 5 years — a sum that nicely matches up with what Irene cost QLLA. So in one sense there is a very big reduction in place.

Bigger picture, Vermont is a very small state both geographically and in terms of population. The tax base is small. The biggest costs in the schools are for teacher salaries, which in Vermont are laughable compared to what teachers in private schools or big suburban public schools are paid. If you love Vermont and want to own a place here, you are going to pay more in taxes than in most places, particularly if you are successful. You are also going to spend more on your cars (because they wear out faster on the mix of paved and unpaved roads, and winter conditions), more on your heating, more for food and other stuff (because we are relatively remote and off the beaten track). Vermont tends to be poor because it’s expensive to be here in countless ways, most of them small and under-appreciated by those of us who are successful and have resources.

All that said, the town of Hartford, of which Quechee is just a neighborhood, has some big advantages over its neighboring towns, namely, it has a terrific infrastructure in Wilder, White River Junction and Quechee and can easily absorb more people. Hartford is investing in its public infrastructure, notably the recreational facilities, in an effort to stay competitive for families drawn to the good jobs at Dartmouth (we have a couple of thousand younger residents who fit this bill already). QLLA could jump on this bandwagon by adopting the simpler and more comprehensive long-term renter program I have submitted in each of the past three years. We could have active users in our unsalable properties — who would pay the water bills and consider them a good deal, who would provide income to offset the fixed expenses of the owners, and who would fill our amenities and F&B operations with plenty of new friends we haven’t met yet, excited at the prospect of participating in an intentional community devoted to recreation in beautiful Vermont.


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