Editor’s note: The following is an open letter addressed to Vermont cities and towns. Killington is the only town in both Rutland or Windsor County to pass such a resolution.
I am writing today to let you know that the city councils or selectboards of 26 Vermont municipalities have passed a resolution calling for a two year cap on the state education property tax rate. Additional boards may have passed the resolution as well and have yet to let us know about that decision. You can view the list of communities that are known to have passed the resolution at www.capourratevt.com/
Last Monday the governor announced that the statewide education property tax rate is projected, at this time, to go up by 2 cents. The announcement also includes reference to an increase in the percentage of general fund contribution to the education fund, consistent with what we have called for in the “cap resolution.” Having said that, 2 cents more represents a growing dependence on the property tax at a time when enrollment in pre-K-12 is projected to continue its decline to under 80,000 students.
In addition, we must also consider the challenge facing the Legislature this winter as it wrestles with the projected $100 million deficit in the general fund for FY ’16. The reality of dealing with a deficit of that magnitude given other spending pressures calls into serious question whether the 2 cent increase in the statewide rate will be maintained throughout the budget process or will it creep upward to 3 or 4 cents as education spending competes for scarce general fund dollars and other priorities.
Furthermore, the Burlington Free Press reported in the Saturday, Nov. 29 edition that the State Board of Education is taking a five-year “strategic” approach to reforming education and education funding. To quote from the article, “The draft five-year plan calls for dedicating the first year to statistically defining the problems the state faces. Potential solutions would be explored in the second year and a series of reports would be issued. The final three years of the plan would be used to create and implement solutions.”
The fact that our state education leadership apparently believes a solution to our property tax crisis is at least five years away is, to say it mildly, disappointing.
Now is the exact time to send a message to Montpelier that our over-reliance on the property tax to fund education is having a material impact on our ability to provide critical municipal services such as public safety.
The story that education’s demand for funding from the property tax payers is crowding out the ability to fund critical municipal services must be told and then reinforced. Passing the tax cap resolution and joining at least 30 other Vermont communities will make a statement to our representatives in Montpelier and the Governor that we cannot wait five years for property tax relief; it must be the highest priority of the Legislature in 2015.
I hope you will consider passing this resolution, or a similar measure you create, that will clearly communicate to your representatives in Montpelier that further delay in providing property tax relief is causing damage to critical municipal services and that reform must come in 2015.
Thanks for your interest,
Pat Nowak, Vice Chair, South Burlington City Council