Editorial, Legislative Report

Town Meeting Break Coming Up, Property Taxes and More

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WORCESTER – The pace continues to pick up as we head for the Legislature’s Town Meeting week break. As has happened across the state, there have been changes in how and when towns and school districts vote and meet, including in our House district.

School Property Taxes. H.850, the bill that is a limited first step in fixing the problems in raising funds equitably for schools via property taxes, passed the House on February 14, then passed the Senate on February 21, and was signed by Governor Scott the next day. This unusually fast action is in recognition of the urgent need for school districts to budget for the coming fiscal year, and it does not fix the fundamental problems with how we pay for education long term, and does not help all districts in the short term.

There will be other legislation considered this year, including funding from sources other than property taxes, I think there is a broad understanding that Vermont needs to lessen its dependence on property taxes for this purpose. And, as noted in my previous report, underlying all this is the fact that the actual costs in school budgets have risen by about 15% on average, for much the same reasons that costs to businesses have risen and to their customers as well.

On the House Environment and Energy Committee, we’ve been busy working on H. 687, an act relating to community resilience and biodiversity protection through land use, a major bill which we will vote on soon.

We have also taken testimony and discussed the Department of Forest, Parks and Recreation’s proposed management plan for the Worcester Range, which has caused considerable concern in some affected communities. The roughly 19,000-acre area includes several hugely popular areas for hiking, mountain biking, snowmobiling and hunting. It spans the towns of Elmore, Worcester, Middlesex, Waterbury and Stowe, and includes Elmore, Worcester and Hunger mountains.

A concern I have raised has to do with proposed logging in certain areas. This would be done in accordance with established and sound ecological practices and I do not disagree with this in principle. My concern is the locations, which would be mostly on the eastern side of the range and could potentially affect high water levels in the North Branch tributary of the Winooski River, which starts in Elmore and flows through Worcester, Middlesex and then into the Wrightsville Reservoir. The dam is on the Montpelier city line and came very close to overflowing through its spillway in July for the first time since it was built in the 1930s. The department has received many hundreds of comments including from the Middlesex and Worcester Planning Commissions, and will be responding to all those.

Contact: [email protected] or leave a message at the Sergeant at Arms office, (802) 828-2228. To track any bills, agendas and written testimony for all House and Senate
committees, or to view all House and Senate sessions or committee hearings either live or recorded, visit legislature.vermont.gov/
Patt represents the Lamoille-Washington District (Morristown, Elmore, Woodbury, Worcester and northern Stowe.

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