Town, Rock of Ages settle tax dispute
By David Delcore
Staff Writer | March 29,2013
BARRE TOWN — It took nearly three and a half years and a full two and a half days of trial time last month, but the town has reached an out-of-court settlement with its largest taxpayer.
Under the deal, which was finally approved by Judge Robert Bent late last week, Rock of Ages Corp. will receive a $206,306 credit from the town to cover its future tax obligations.
Though the town could choose to apply the credit over a shorter period of time, the settlement allows it to be divided in equal increments over the next three fiscal years.
The 11th-hour agreement, which was reached in midtrial, resolves a massive tax appeal that Rock of Ages filed in 2009 after Assessor Joe LeVesque set the collective value of 22 company-owned properties — including several buildings and more than 1,100 acres — at $19,636,100.
Rock of Ages grieved that assessment, and LeVesque lowered it to $14,771,000 — setting the stage for an appeal that was first denied by the local Board of Civil Authority and later filed at the superior courthouse in Montpelier.
Rock of Ages, which claimed the properties were collectively worth only $6,361,247, had been paying taxes based on the $14.77 million figure since 2009.
After two delays, the case finally went to trial in early February and would have resumed Feb. 27 if the two sides hadn’t come to terms.
They agreed to fix the value of Rock of Ages’ properties at $12 million for 2009, 2010 and 2011.
Bent was presented with the substance of the settlement earlier this month and last week issued a two-page decision that outlined the details without providing a hint of which way he might have been leaning.
“During two and one-half days of trial, the parties submitted a considerable body of evidence and testimony including competing credible appraisals,” he wrote in the newly released decision.
In addition to LeVesque, Town Manager Carl Rogers said Bent heard testimony from George Silver, the Burlington real estate appraiser hired by Rock of Ages; Randy Mulligan, a Hyde Park appraiser hired by the town to critique Silver’s work; and Jeffrey Kern, of Resource Technologies Corp., an independent appraisal firm from Pennsylvania hired by the town to assess the fair market value of the property Rock of Ages owns.
Rogers said Kern was still on the stand when the trial recessed.
According to Rogers’ “ballpark estimate,” the town spent roughly $80,000 in legal fees and other costs associated with Rock of Ages’ latest tax appeal.
The settlement was reached even as Rock of Ages was preparing to sell a sizable chunk of its quarry lands — all part of the now-resolved appeal — to anchor a 355-acre town forest.
Several closings involving the forest project are scheduled to be finalized today — including one that will result in Rock of Ages receiving $710,000 from the Trust for Public Land in exchange for 273 acres it owns, Rogers said. The Trust for Public Land is then expected to place a conservation easement on the property and deed it to the town for incorporation in a municipal forest that was first proposed in 2010.
Rogers said the looming sale will not affect the settlement, though it will be considered when establishing the fair market value of Rock of Ages’ real estate in the future.
This isn’t the first time Rock of Ages received a sizable credit from the town, though the reappraisal-related tax appeal the company filed in 2004 never made it to trial.
That appeal involved the value — roughly $8.2 million — that LeVesque placed on Rock of Ages’ main manufacturing plant.
With the appeal still pending in 2006, Rock of Ages and the town agreed to skip the expense of a court trial by putting the dispute in the hands of an independent appraiser. Both sides agreed they would accept the appraiser’s finding provided it fell somewhere between the manufacturing plant’s pre-reappraisal value of $3.7 million and $7 million. The latter figure represented something of a concession from the town.
Town officials were stunned when the appraisal came back at $2.2 million — $6 million less than the figure set by LeVesque.
To resolve that appeal Rock of Ages, which had been paying taxes based on the $8.2 million assessment for two years, received a credit against its property tax bill. That credit was spread out over two years.