Resolution sought on property tax rebate, prebate issue

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(Host) It’s quite unusual for parties in a political dispute to agree to settle their differences in court – but that’s exactly what’s happening in a controversy over a new program that deals with property tax rebates and prebates.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The basic question in this controversy is this: is the amount of a homeowner’s rebate or prebate under Act 68 public or private information?

The issue has come up because a new approach is being used to distribute this money.

Instead of getting a check from the state, homeowners are receiving a direct credit on their property tax bills.

But there are concerns that if the information is made public, it will be relatively easy to determine the income level of the household receiving the credit.

The Vermont League of Cities and Towns wants to get this matter resolved as soon as possible. League director Steve Jeffery says many town clerks feel like they’re caught in legal limbo:

(Jeffrey) "We do really believe that we need a resolution. There’s 2 ways that we can get resolution. One is for the Legislature to pass a law that clarifies whether they’re confidential whether they’re public or whether they just need to be released under certain conditions. But the Legislature isn’t set to reconvene until January. And we’re hoping I guess that maybe by getting a lawsuit before a court, we’d get a decision by a court that would give us some clarity."

House Republicans have raised privacy concerns about the new program for several months.

South Londonderry Republican Rep. Rick Hube supports the lawsuit as a way to try to resolve this issue soon.

(Hube) "I think the core issue is privacy. And I don’t think we’ve heard anything compared to what we’d hear if out of state aggregators, direct marketers – whether they’re mortgage companies or credit card companies or anybody that’s doing the solicitation, if they could a hold of that information, it’s very valuable and it’s not very difficult to come up with these numbers."

(Kinzel) Morristown Rep. Shap Smith has become the lead spokesperson for House Democrats on this issue. Smith also welcomes a lawsuit.

(Smith) "I do think it would be helpful. I think there are open questions about the applicability of certain statutes and whether they require the information to be private. And it think that any guidance that the courts could give us would be helpful."

(Kinzel) Democratic and Republican leaders say their goal now is ensure that this information remains private.

The Vermont League of Cities and Towns hopes to find a town and a homeowner who are willing to be part of the lawsuit before the end of the month.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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