A quick note with some big news items. Tomorrow I will have Office Hours at the Dover Free Library from 11-noon – stop in. This is a great time to come and ask questions, tell me your ideas or just to introduce yourself!
I’ve included notice from Vermont School Boards Association about the statutorily required December 1st letter from the Tax Commissioner on projected tax rates. There’s good context in the VSBA outreach. The most important item to take away from this notice is that it identifies the likely boundaries of the negotiation between the governor and the legislature on state impacts to tax rates.
I’ve also included notice for a climate event I will be participating in with other legislators in Bellows Falls on December 13th from 6-7 pm. There is a second event in Brattleboro on December 15th at Brooks Memorial Library from 6-7 pm. If you are concerned about climate action – either that we aren’t acting fast enough, or that we are acting too quickly – this will be a good place to connect. I was unsuccessful in securing a location in the Deerfield Valley or West River Valley for the event, but your voices are definitely welcomed and wanted!
There is also a terrific update from the Wardsboro Broadband Committee on the unprecedented flurry of activity from two private providers that is happening in the town and when DVFiber is expected to be turning up service. The short answer is to read the fine print and be careful not to get locked into a long term contract.
The Tax Commissioner has issued the December 1st letter on education funding and projected tax rates/yield amounts. The letter projects an 8.5 percent overall growth rate in school spending, which would be higher than any growth rate in the last decade.
One of the most significant factors impacting the forecast this year is a projected surplus of more than $63 million in the Education Fund leftover from FY23. Statute mandates that the forecast use the entire surplus to reduce the projected property tax rates, which means if a portion of the surplus is used for other purposes the rates will be different than projected. The Governor is recommending the Legislature apply all this year’s surplus to reducing property tax rates in FY24.
The average equalized homestead tax rate is forecasted to decrease by 7 cents compared to FY23. The statewide based non-homestead tax rate is forecasted to decrease by 8 cents. However, the letter emphasizes that equalized average rates are only one piece of the property tax formula, and volatility in the Common Level of Appraisal (CLA), coupled with higher-than-normal projected education spending, means actual tax bills will look very different than the projected equalized rates.
The CLA is a mechanism that helps ensure uniform property values across the state. When fair market property values increase in a town, the town’s CLA decreases, which causes the town’s tax rate on bills to increase. Given the rapid appreciation in real estate values recently, the CLA is expected to decrease in many communities which means actual tax rates in those towns could be much higher than the forecasted statewide rate. As a result, average property tax bills are projected to increase by 3.7% even if the full surplus is used to reduce property tax rates in FY24.
“The substantial reduction in the Common Level of Appraisal remains a significant factor in calculating property tax rates for many communities around our state,” said Tax Commissioner Craig Bolio. “Vermonters should understand that there is more to the story than the equalized rates forecasted by this letter.”
Wardsboro Broadband Committee Update
Most of us have probably noticed work crew activity along the power line rights-of-way in Wardsboro and are wondering about it. So, what’s going on and when will we have high-speed broadband Internet service?
The main reason you haven’t heard a definitive answer to this question has to do with the competitive nature of the telecommunications business.
DVFiber, working with its partner GWI, will be the Internet service provider to DVFiber subscribers. DVFiber’s network and construction plans include Wardsboro in the early phases of construction. DVFiber’s network plans for its 24-town district is laid out into fiber service areas; not by town boundaries.DVFiber’s network plan includes all residences and businesses in Wardsboro that are connected to the power grid.
DVFiber is starting with a pilot program group in December 2022 to test DVFiber’s newly built network before making connections to other subscribers. The group participating in this pilot project is located in a fiber service area other than Wardsboro.
DVFiber, along with the Vermont Communications Union District Association and the Vermont Community Broadband Board, has taken measures to move construction along as quickly as possible. It will take time to reach all the unserved and underserved addresses in this initial 513 miles of construction. One issue DVFiber and other CUDs are facing is the pace at which the pole make-ready work is being done. Power company crews are doing this required work to “make ready” their poles for DVFiber’s fiber installation, but this work is going slower than expected. Hurricane damage required the same crews working locally to be reassigned to Halifax, Canada, or Florida. DVFiber continues to look for ways to expedite this work.
Information and Service
Since the telecommunications business is so competitive, DVFiber has to be careful about the information it divulges. However, DVFiber, along with its partner GWI, is gearing up to begin its information, marketing, and subscriber campaigns.
Consolidated Communications (Fidium Fiber) and Comcast (Xfinity) seem to want to show interest in the rural areas of Vermont now that Vermont’s communications union districts are rolling out construction of community-owned fiber optic networks. Historically, the incumbent providers have focused on the most densely populated areas and neglected other less desirable areas in communities.
If your Internet needs cannot wait and another service provider has an offering available, you may want to consider taking it. We understand this and suggest you not lock yourself into a contract, especially not a long-term contract, so you can connect to DVFiber’s community-owned superior service when it is available.
Please read carefully into the fine print of what other telecommunications service providers are advertising and offering. They may offer low rates to sign up customers and then increase rates later. Their rates can vary from one area to another, so what is the rate for your area? TV programming may be offered, but is it included at the same price? What is the price for TV programming? What are the installation fees? What equipment costs are required? What is the cost to add phone service? What other fees are included? Do they set data caps? They often give download speed, but what will the upload speed be? How many devices can be used at the same time and still maintain the plan’s download speed? What support will they offer people needing help applying for the federal Affordable Connectivity Program benefits?
DVFiber Seeks Administrative Assistant
DVFiber is looking to hire an administrative assistant to work remotely. They are offering an hourly rate of $20 an hour, with an expected 40 hours a week, plus benefits. A link to the job description can be found at https://dvfiber.net/rfps-and-contracts/or by requesting one from email@example.com. Interested persons may submit a cover letter, resume, and contact information for at least three references to firstname.lastname@example.org.
As always, if you have suggestions, concerns or critiques please be in touch so we can schedule time to discuss. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need assistance navigating government services at (802) 384-0233 or email@example.com. Follow my regular posts online at http://www.laurasibiliavt.com
Rep. Laura Sibilia – Dover, Jamaica, Somerset, Stratton, Wardsboro