Add to the cultural side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic (home schooling, buying off the internet, escape to the country, etc.), there's a surprise effect on ponds. A bunch of property owners in my town just found out the ponds they've owned for years, maybe decades, are being taxed for the first time.
I got calls from surprised pond owners, and soon heard of others through the grapevine. Hey, my pond is being taxed! What's up?
After a few calls to the town listers, and the tax consultant who supervises the town
assessments, I put together the story of our new pond tax.
Bottom line, it's true. Some ponds are being taxed for the first time, while others have been on rolls for years, untaxed. My pond, as it turned out, has been taxed since it was built. Forty years plus. A friend nearby had an equally old pond untaxed. Until now that is.
Some background: it seems that the average taxed ponds are valued at $5,000. Ponds are valued according to size and quality on a 1-5 scale, poor to excellent, with most set in middle-average, which is 5k.
How does that shake down in terms of added tax? In our town, that 5k valuation is going to cost pond owners about two hundred bucks. Many felt it's a small price to pay for such a valuable asset.
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Town Listers can now see ponds from a statewide mapping project
and levy taxes on those ponds.
Since my pond had been taxed for decades, maybe since it was built, that's an estimated $8,000 total! While some pond owners had gone scot free. How fair was that?
And why now were some ponds being taxed for the first time? The answer starts with how tax listers list: they visit a property and put a value on buildings and land. This valuation goes on your assessment and is used to calculate your taxes. In Vermont you pay property tax based on the value of your property assessment.
As it turns out, when listers list, they sometimes miss ponds. As one lister told me, "We do a lot of listing in the winter, and you can miss a bunch of ponds when they're under a foot of snow." I'm guessing that more than a few property owners were not bragging about their ponds during these visits. Alas, when the listers came to my house it was summer and the new pond was in full view. Ka-ching!
So why now were all the secret unlisted ponds suddenly being unearthed? After all, tax appraisal visits had been halted for safety reasons during covid.
Here's where the latest pond COVID-19 side effect kicks in. How, the listers wondered, do we update assessments during the pandemic, when visits are off limits?
Someone recalled that the state had recently done an aerial photography mapping program, with better imagery and location software than Google, etc. Maybe they could locate some assets that had gone unlisted. Like ponds. They scoured the photos and found as many as fifteen ponds, according to one of the listers, with more anticipated. Bingo!
The unknown ponds they spied were added to each owner's assessment. And all those years of not paying pond tax, would there be a penalty, a retroactive tax? Nope, against state law. What was overlooked was a pond owner's good fortune.
In fact, I haven't heard from any pond owner disputing a new pond tax. Perhaps, considering all those tax free years, it would be rather bad form. Especially when their neighbor pond owner was out big bucks over the years. The pond owners I talked to all agreed, a couple hundred bucks more or less was a small price to pay for their beloved body of water. As one guy told me, "My pond is the best part of my place. It's worth the tax."
I agree. See, it's not the tax that bothers me. It's the way it was discovered. More and more, we are being spied on by aircraft, drones, satellites. We are losing our privacy to high tech, pun intended.
So, tax or no tax, keep the "overseerers" in mind especially when you go skinny dipping.
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