Committee will meet to insure prebate/rebate privacy

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(Host) The House Ways and Means committee will meet next month to consider plans for ensuring that details about a homeowner’s prebate or rebate under Act 68 remains as private information.

One plan would have the state collect all revenues from the statewide property tax but it’s likely that other proposals will be considered as well.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) When lawmakers passed Act 185, that’s the law that credits a homeowner’s prebate or rebate directly on their property tax bill, many supporters of the law said they thought that privacy concerns about the plan were being overstated.

But it seems that’s no longer the case.

There’s a growing concern that if this information is made public, it will be relatively easy for anyone to determine the income of the household.

To date, no clear legal opinion has emerged if the amount of this tax subsidy should be public or private information.

Most legislative leaders say they believe the information should remain private but a new law may be needed to achieve this goal.

The full Ways and Means committee will hold a special hearing in the second week of September to look at this issue.

Speaking on VPR’s Vermont Edition, one of the leading Democrats on the committee, Morristown Rep. Shap Smith said he believes there are several possible solutions to this problem:

(Smith) "I think it is incumbent on our committee to look at the concerns that have been raised and figure out a way to address them. And I think there are a variety of options one of the options is we could actually move to a state collection system given the fact that this is a statewide tax. And I think that’s one option that we ought to look very seriously at."

(Kinzel) South Londonderry Rep. Rick Hube is backing a plan to allow homeowners to opt out of the system. Homeowners that take this approach would go back to the old system of receiving a check from the state.

(Hube) "It’s not unusual. I just seek on the Homestead Declaration or on the income tax forms. You just check a box to opt out and the money would then come directly to you and you could pay your tax bill with that money and whatever additional monies are necessary."

(Kinzel) Rep. Smith says he’s willing to look at the "opt out" plan, but he questions just how many homeowners are really upset with the new system.

(Smith) "I get calls from my constituents all the time and I have gotten many calls actually in the last couple of weeks, but I just haven’t gotten any calls about this."

(Kinzel) At the same time that lawmakers consider possible solutions, the Vermont League of Cities and Towns says it hopes to file a lawsuit in the next few weeks so that a judge can give town clerks some timely guidance on the question of whether this tax subsidy information is public or private.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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