Voters to decide on Assessor post at Town Meeting

MANCHESTER -- Who decides the assessed value of property in Manchester could change after Town Meeting.

Last May, Act 21. (H 406) "An Act relating to town listers, assessors and auditors," was signed into law by Gov. Peter Shumlin. This law gives towns the local option to move from elected listers to select board appointed assessors. Voters in Manchester will have the chance at Town Meeting to eliminate the board of Listers and instead create the office of assessor, a select board appointed position.

In May of last year, an act was signed into law that allowed for this local option to be presented to the voters, unless the office of lister was a part of the town charter. Pauline Moore, one of Manchester's current listers will become the assessor if the town approves this change. She said the move from elected listers to appointed assessors will make for a smoother transition when she retires.

"This will help Manchester in the long run. It's getting harder and harder to get qualified people to run for the job of lister," she said. Representative Jeff Wilson (Dem. ) said this is an issue that has been bubbling up around the state wide that many communities are facing. He said the way Vermont property taxes are designed has made the job of Lister much more difficult and time consuming than before.

"This will now go to the towns and [I think] more and more communities will take advantage. . . especially those [towns] that are larger and midsize, where there are more complex properties," Wilson said.

Town Manager John O'Keefe echoed Wilson, saying that with the passage of Act 60 and Act 68, Vermont's educational financing laws, there is much more involved in assessing property. "Most states and towns do not change [property] value as much," he said. "Vermont has a statewide tax, so we're constantly chasing around [property] values."

If this passes, O'Keefe said it will be much easier on the town to find a qualified person to fill the role of assessor. With the role of Lister, there are not specific qualifications involved, just a willingness to run for the elected position. However, Moore said if she is to become the one assessor, as opposed to two other listers, it will not make her job any easier, but will create an ease in future transitions.

Steven Jeffery, the executive director of The Vermont League of Cities and Towns, said he believes this local option will help towns of all sizes where their listers are becoming overwhelmed with the job and the complexity involved.

"To me, the thing about this is it is a local option that gives voters the flexibility to respond to the situations where they find themselves," he said. Manchester is not the only town considering this change; there are about three towns presenting the option to voters in Chittenden County. This idea appears to be pretty popular, he said.

One of the benefits of this local option is smaller towns could make the choice to work together and appoint one assessor for a larger area, Jeffrey said. Interestingly, he pointed out, Rep. Mark Higley, who represents Orleans-Lamoille 1 has served as a Lister and introduced the bill in part because of his experience in the position. The local option was also supported by the Vermont Assessors and Listers Association.

"They really embraced it," Jeffrey said.


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