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State tax appraiser disagrees with town and applicant on how to appraise property

November 22, 2006 

By Lisa Loomis

Vermont state tax appraiser Merle Van Gieson discarded both Waitsfield's methods of determining property values as well as property owner John Dewey's method in the case of an appeal of 2005 appraised values.

John and Murilla Dewey appealed their 2005 property tax valuation to the town's board of civil authority and then to the state level. Their contention is that the ratio the town used to determine what percentage of fair market value is most appropriate for Waitsfield should be 49.9. The town argued that the correct ratio (referred to as an 'equalized ratio' or ER) should be 70.16. Van Gieson found that the correct ratio should be 47.80.

The ratio matters because it is what determines the actual property tax bill for a parcel. The Deweys and the Waitsfield listers agree that the fair market value of their parcel is $1,775,000. That number is then multiplied by an equalized ratio to determine its value for the 2005 tax year.

Van Gieson, in an October 16 ruling, discarded the methods used by both the town and the Deweys' expert to calculate the proper ER ratio.

"The most convincing and reliable evidence of a proper ER to apply to the fair market value found is a study of all valid sales, adjusted for time if appropriate, occurring in a town six months prior to six months after the April 1 appraisal date. The next most convincing and reliable evidence of a proper ER is obtained from all valid sales in a town occurring one year prior to, or if that much time has passed one year after, the April 1 appraisal date," Van Gieson  wrote in his decision.

This change in the way an appropriate ER is calculated may affect other property owners who are currently appealing their 2005 appraised values. The Deweys are simultaneously involved in a separate appeal of their 2003 appraised value. That appeal involves the methodology the town uses to determine new values when properties are improved or remodeled.

The appeal is before the Vermont Supreme Court.

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