Tax Bills Set Off a Second Round of Sticker Shock for Burlington Homeowners | Off Message

Tax Bills Set Off a Second Round of Sticker Shock for Burlington Homeowners


  • Matt Mignanelli
The tax man cometh.

Burlington residents received their fiscal year 2022 tax bills this week, nearly three months after a citywide reassessment recalculated their home values. The results have sent some Queen City taxpayers into sticker shock.

"I took a very deep breath. It was like, Oh, my God," Meryl Goldfarb, 62, said of receiving her tax bill. "I literally lost sleep that night, because I was like, I don't know how I'm gonna get through this."

Before the reassessment, the city valued Goldfarb's three-bedroom condo in the city's South End at $218,600; today, that value has jumped to $353,900, a 62 percent increase. Her tax bill increased 16 percent, or about $1,000.

Goldfarb isn't alone. Many of her neighbors have complained about their new valuations; others have taken to Front Porch Forum and social media to air their grievances.

Some increases were expected as a result of the reassessment, which was Burlington's first citywide one since 2005. For years, demand for housing in the city — a university town that is the state's economic center and a tourist destination — has outpaced its supply. The pandemic, which brought out-of-state buyers to Vermont's relatively safe COVID-19 pastures, put upward pressure on Burlington home prices.

The city released new valuations last spring but allowed residents to appeal the figures. To ease the panic, city officials told the public that the reassessment is "revenue neutral," meaning the city can't collect more tax dollars as a result of the process. While some valuations would go up, officials said, others would come down. The city's overall tax rate, too, was reduced to compensate for the new values.

About 70 percent of Burlington homeowners who live in the city get a payment from the state that reduces the amount they pay, according to City Assessor John Vickery. The city provided Seven Days with tax data from last year and this current year that does not include the state payment amounts.

Dave Davidson spoke to Seven Days after the reassessment increased the value of his Pitkin Street home by 155 percent. His tax bill went up 83.5 percent, or about $2,250.

“It’s unfathomable to me that this is somehow revenue neutral,” Davidson said, “and that there’s the select few who didn’t have rates go up or actually have valuations go down. Did they go down that much that it’s going to zero out this monumental increase on everyone else’s side?”

Goldfarb said she'll have to cut back on her grocery bills, and other discretionary spending, to make ends meet. She's already spoken with her friend, a real estate agent, about listing her condo for sale.

"It’s not something I care to do, but I don't know if it’s sustainable for me to live in an environment that costs so much," Goldfarb said. "They’re making homeownership ... in the city not affordable."

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