(Host) A small group of property owners in Mount Holly is protesting rising property taxes by opting out of a local reappraisal.
Town officials say the protest is based on misinformation and is spreading unnecessary fear and anger.
VPR’s Nina Keck has more.
(sound of meeting)
(Keck) It’s a Wednesday morning and Mount Holly’s three listers are working in the town office. Regina Cowell says the last time Mount Holly did a reappraisal where they visited individual homes was 1999. While they did another reappraisal in 2003, by adjusting sales data, she says there’s been a growing disparity between the amount homes are selling for and the value they’re being taxed at.
(Cowell) "According to the state we were at 71% . Everyone is supposed to be 100% of market value so we’re at 71. Anytime it falls below 80% we are required to do a reappraisal."
(Keck) So, in January 2008, the town sent a letter to all property owners explaining that a three year on-site reappraisal was being undertaken. Lister Regina Cowell says that’s when a number of local residents began receiving anonymous emails and letters from a group identifying itself as The Mount Holly Boycott.
(Cowell) "A direct quote is "The goal of the boycott is to throw a wrench into the bureaucratic process that is being used by the Montpelier Gang of Thieves to take your money and spend it in other towns."
(Keck) The letters and emails urge local residents to join together and boycott the town-wide reappraisal by mailing in a signed form denying local officials access to private land.
(Cowell) I have a number of emails that they’re saying if the government wants to go into your house you should grab the kids, lock the door and hold onto your wallet."
(Keck) Cowell says that while she understands the frustration over property taxes, she says the group’s anonymous emails are inflammatory and filled with misinformation. For instance she says the group states property values in town are falling so fast that a reappraisal isn’t needed.
(Cowell) People don’t understand that yes, sales are down – the number of sales are down, but the values are still there.
(Keck) Of 27 sales recorded in the town last year, Cowell says only four properties sold for less than their listed value. Despite repeated attempts no one from The Mount Holly Boycott would identify themselves or be interviewed on tape for this story. Corresponding only by email, the group states that they’re made up mostly of retired Mount Holly residents living on fixed incomes who are working to disrupt the Act 60 education funding process.
(Devereux) I tell you this anonymous thing doesn’t fly. It doesn’t fly in Montpelier and it doesn’t’ fly down here."
(Keck) That’s Dennis Devereux, the state representative for Mt. Holly, Ludlow and Plymouth. He says the issues brought up by the group are worth discussing, but by not coming forward publicly, he says they lose credibility. Still, 28 local residents have filled out the form to keep appraisers and listers out. State tax officials say they have the legal right to do that. But their homes and land will still be reappraised based on exterior inspections and old data. And tax officials warn that could lead to an over appraisal.
For VPR News, I’m Nina Keck in Mount Holly.