On just its third day in session, the Vermont House of Representatives voted out a tax abatement bill that will soften the financial blow to municipalities ravaged by Tropical Storm Irene.
On the whole, Irene’s impact on Vermont property values was pretty minor. The $109 million in damage to residential and commercial properties statewide amounts to only about one-tenth of 1 percent of the state’s $81.3 billion grand list.
But for communities like Waterbury, which saw $9.9 million in property damage, or Wilmington, which registered more than $13 million in losses, the legislation approved unanimously Thursday will prevent the disaster from triggering even more fiscal pressure on taxpayers in those communities.
The bill, expected to cost the state between $2 million and $4 million in general fund money, will reimburse towns for whatever property-tax revenue that will be lost as a result of the damage to homes and businesses. It also will prevent affected property owners from having to pay taxes on home value that no longer exists.
Otherwise, those towns would be left to make up the difference internally, resulting in higher – in some cases substantially higher – tax rates on the rest of the tax-paying population.
Eighty-two towns reported some property damage as a result of Irene; of those, 23 had losses of more than $1 million, according to Bill Johnson with the Vermont Department of Taxes. Residential homes were hit hardest, accounting for 71 percent of all property damage.
The bill enjoyed tri-partisan support in the House, and is expected to move quickly through the Senate as well.
“In the storms of the past year, significant damage was done to private properties across the state,” House Speaker Shap Smith said in a written statement. “I am glad we were able to expedite this bill to provide help to those hit hard by natural disaster.”