Dorset hopes for revolt on education taxes

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(Host) Frustrated Dorset taxpayers hope to spark a revolt against rising state education taxes.

Among the measures they’re advocating is a cap on school spending. They’re also threatening civil disobedience if necessary to get the state’s attention.

VPR’s Susan Keese has more.

(Keese) Dorset Representative Patti Komline says it isn’t fair

The state’s school funding law requires towns that keep their school budgets low to pay more anyway when other towns vote in big budget hikes.

(Komline) “And that’s where we don’t have the local control with regard to spending in other towns.”

(Keese) Act 68 attempts to divide the cost of educating all of Vermont’s children among the towns according to each town’s ability to pay.

That ability is based in large part by a town’s property wealth. The system is especially hard on resort towns like Dorset, where property values are soaring.

Komline says this year Dorset will pay almost $8 million into the state education fund. It will get back less than half – $3.2 million for its own school budget.

She says even in towns that receive more than they spend, people have reached the limit of what they can pay.

(Komline) So we really want to move toward capping the school spending.”

(Keese) Komline is working on a resolution that would cap yearly school budget increases at around the rate of inflation. That’s about three-point-five percent.

Governor Jim Douglas proposed similar limits last year. But the idea went nowhere in the legislature.

That’s why Komline wants put the idea before the voters in a ballot resolution in November.

(Komline) “The idea would be then that in January when we go back into session, we can address that. We’ll have a bill drafted that will mirror the resolution and hopefully if we can get enough towns picking up on this, we’ll have something to work on.”

(Keese) Chris Brooks, a member of the Dorset select board is working with Komline. Brooks is urging towns to refuse to collect education property taxes for the state unless there’s an effort to fix things.

The two had hoped the Vermont League of Cities and Towns would work with them.

But Executive Director Steven Jeffrey says the League isn’t advocating spending caps or a tax revolt. He says the league is working on its own recommendations.

(Jeffrey) “We believe that we’ve got to come up with a solution that funds our education system adequately, that preserves the local decision making that has been intrinsic in Vermont’s governance structure and that more equitably distributes the responsibility for contributing to it and that’s what we’re gong to be looking to provide.”

(Keese) Jeffrey says he believes legislators have responded to concerns about the funding system. He says reforms have been instituted, or at least considered, almost every year since the statewide property tax began.

For Vermont public radio, I’m Susan Keese.

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