Dummerston tax deal averts court battle

Friday December 21, 2012

DUMMERSTON -- Town officials have struck a tentative financial deal with Southeast Vermont Learning Collaborative, resolving a tax dispute that might otherwise have ended up in court.

The collaborative, in lieu of taxes, annually would pay Dummerston about a third of its headquarters’ grand-list value. And the Selectboard would recognize that the collaborative is exempt from property taxes as long as the state agrees with that label.

"It’s all contingent on the state approving that they are tax-exempt," said Lewis White, Dummerston Selectboard chairman.

The collaborative, which provides professional development to teachers in 12 supervisory unions, had been renting space in a state-owned building that formerly housed a regional library on Route 5.

But the learning collaborative’s purchase of that building, completed last year, sparked a dispute about taxation.

Dummerston’s board of listers turned down the collaborative’s request for tax exemption. And the town’s attorney wrote that "criteria in addition to an organization’s nonprofit status must be met in order to claim exemption from town property taxes."

Specifically, attorney Bob Fisher had requested the collaborative’s bylaws and articles of incorporation in addition to records showing what other organizations rented or used space in the building.

But collaborative administrators said no for-profit enterprise had used the building. And they argued that, as an educational nonprofit, the collaborative is entirely tax-exempt.

The two sides were far apart after a meeting last month, and there was talk of a court case. But subsequent discussions led to an agreement reviewed last week by the Selectboard.

It calls for the collaborative to pay 33 percent of its grand-list value each year. That currently equals $2,488 in taxes.

Town officials initially had asked for 45 percent. But Selectboard members, while recommending a few language tweaks, appeared to be satisfied with the agreement.

"I think it’s a good deal for the town," Selectboard member Tom Bodett said.

Paul Smith, secretary-treasurer of the learning collaborative’s board, said he expects the board to vote on the matter soon.

"We’re fine with the settlement," he said. "We feel that it’s reasonable all the way around."

The agreement, Smith added, is an indication that "we want to be part of the Dummerston community."

However, he acknowledged that "we’re back to square one" if the state rules that the collaborative is not tax-exempt. It is not clear how quickly that decision will be rendered.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.


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