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Lesage v. Town of Colchester

Supreme Court of Vermont

July 5, 2013

Stephanie LESAGE, Mary E. McNeil and Richard Mostrom, Colin McNeil, Daniel and Claudia McNeil
v.
TOWN OF COLCHESTER. Mary Jane Marchelewicz
v.
Town of Colchester. In re Colchester Leased Lands.

Motion for Reargument In Docket No. 2012-392 Denied As Untimely Filed Aug. 26, 2013.

Page 1143

Ian M. DeGalan and Brian P. Monaghan of Monaghan SafarDwight PLLC, Burlington, for Appellant Town of Colchester. (2012-196).

Peter and Stephanie Lesage, Pro Se, Colchester, Appellees.

Joseph E. McNeil, Colin K. McNeil and Kevin J. Coyle of McNeil, Leddy & Sheahan, Burlington, for Appellees McNeil/Mostrom, Colin McNeil, Daniel and Claudia McNeil.

James W. Barlow, Vermont League of Cities and Towns, Montpelier, for Amicus Curiae Vermont League of Cities and Towns.

Mark L. Sperry and Michele B. Patton of Langrock Sperry & Wool, LLP, Burlington, for Amicus Curiae Coates Island, LLC.

Brian P. Monaghan and Nicholas T. Stanton of Monaghan SafarDwight PLLC,

Page 1144

Burlington, for Appellant Town of Colchester. (2012-300 & 2012-392).

Liam L. Murphy and Damien J. Leonard of Murphy Sullivan Kronk, Burlington, for Appellees Colchester Leased Lands.

William H. Sorrell, Attorney General, and Mary L. Bachman, Assistant Attorney General, Montpelier, for Amicus Curiae Department of Taxes.

Present: REIBER, C.J., SKOGLUND and BURGESS, JJ., and BENT and GERETY, Supr. JJ., Specially Assigned.

SKOGLUND, J.

¶ 1. The common legal issue in these consolidated cases is whether Vermont law allows the Town of Colchester to consider location-related " intangible" factors in assessing seasonal lakefront camps situated on leased land. We conclude that the Town is not precluded from considering such factors in assessing the subject properties. Accordingly, we reverse the decisions of the superior court and state appraiser reaching the opposite conclusion, and we remand the cases for further consideration consistent with our opinion set forth below.

¶ 2. There are two decisions for our review, one by the superior court and one by a state appraiser from the Vermont Division of Property Valuation and Review. As noted, both decisions addressed the Town's authority to factor in intangible factors related to location in assessing lakefront camps situated on leased land. In each of the cases before us, taxpayers own camp buildings on land owned by others who are not parties to these proceedings.

¶ 3. The seed for the instant dispute was planted in 2008 when the Division informed the Town that both its common level of appraisal, which measures assessment equity across towns, and its coefficient of dispersion, which measures assessment equity within a town, were outside acceptable state parameters, thereby requiring a town-wide reappraisal. The Town completed its reappraisal in 2011. Among the town properties subject to reappraisal were hundreds of seasonal lakefront camps, many of which were located on leased lands.

¶ 4. Upon discovering during the reappraisal process that the camps on leased land were listed on the average at about half their median sale price, the Town determined to reappraise the properties based on the actual sales of comparable properties. The Town's appraisal software broke down the appraised value of the camps into two categories, which the Town labeled " building" value and " land/amenity" value. The Town derived the " building" value by estimating the replacement cost of a new building and then deducting depreciation. The Town calculated the " land/amenity" value by using market data to establish a fixed base value and then adjusting that value depending on a variety of factors related to location, such as proximity to shoreline, views, and quality of beachfront.

¶ 5. Following challenges before the town listers and the Town of Colchester Board of Civil Authority, forty-four camp owners appealed their reappraisal assessments to the superior court. See 32 V.S.A. § 4461(a) (providing that taxpayer aggrieved by decision of town board of civil authority may appeal to either superior court or state appraiser). In an April 2012 summary judgment ruling on those consolidated cases, the court concluded that Vermont law does not give municipalities authority to assess owners of " buildings" on leased land for ...


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