Stowe’s property values continued to rise last year, despite the pandemic, adding an estimated $33 million to the town’s overall property grand list already valued at more than $2 billion.
According to town appraiser Tim Morrissey, the grand list — a list of all the real property in a town — is estimated to increase by 1.5 percent, its highest growth in two years.
He won’t have the grand list finalized until spring, but the growth is good news for a town that has scaled back tax revenue expectations based on dismal rooms, meals and alcohol receipts last year.
Morrissey told the Stowe Selectboard Monday that, despite the pandemic, he was able to go out last year to every property to make sure that there was actually construction going on that was permitted by the zoning office. He also took a look at all of the properties that were only partially-finished to get an idea of how much to assess them at — even incomplete properties can add a partial dollar amount to the grand list, and property owners are on the hook for taxes based on those amounts.
“So, I'm pretty comfortable with that 1.5 percent growth,” Morrissey said.
That said, things could change. Morrissey said, for instance, if businesses like hotels or restaurants get shut down because of the pandemic, “there could be some negative impacts concerning growth.”
“It's not easy to predict this in a pandemic,” Morrissey said. “I indicated that right from the get-go.”
Morrissey said he reviews hundreds of permits as he puts together the grand list.
Among the new properties coming onto the property tax rolls are roughly a dozen new condominiums, and a newly-framed project at Spruce Peak — it may be only 35 percent finished, but that will still be reflected in the grand list.
“At this time, there’s a lot of those projects, plus there’s a lot of single family houses out there that are under construction all over town,” Morrissey said. “How complete they're going to be in the spring? That's another story.”
Also during Monday’s selectboard meeting, Stowe Fire Chief and town health officer Kyle Walker ran down the current state of coronavirus locally.
Walker said of the 273 cases reported in the state in the past two weeks, 45 of them were in Lamoille County. He said Stowe saw a “slight uptick” after the holidays.
Board chair Lisa Hagerty acknowledged that’s a high percentage of the overall number for one county, but said she’s “pleasantly surprised” that Stowe didn’t see huge spikes.
“I kept expecting our town to see a higher incidence just because of travelers, etcetera,” Hagerty said.
Bobby Murphy, the vice president and general manager of Stowe Mountain Resort, told the board that, while some guests “are maybe skirting the expectations” when it comes to COVID-19 protocols, most people are “going to great lengths” to follow Vermont’s travel and safety rules.
He said resort management is operating under the assumption that everyone has the infection.
“It really doesn’t matter where anybody’s from who has it or who doesn’t,” Murphy said. “We’re educating folks and we’re getting the word out and expecting those to follow it, and we’re holding those accountable to following the rules when they’re at the mountain.”
Walker said 21,000 Vermonters had been vaccinated as of Monday, the second-highest rate in the country. He said there are 50,000 Vermonters over 75 years old, and once that age group is vaccinated, the state will move to those over 70, and then onto those over 65. He said it may be spring before everyone over 65 in Vermont gets the vaccine, but that’s 125,000 people.
In the meantime, he cautioned against getting complacent just because Stowe didn’t see the huge surge of cases some feared going into the holiday stretch.
“We still only have the tools that are available to us to fight back, so we have to do the same things that we've been doing all along,” he said. “There aren’t any new whiz bang methods to help us out in that regard.”
Selectboard vice-chair Billy Adams said the so-called “U.K. variant” strain of the coronavirus that has popped up in the United Kingdom and elsewhere — including the U.S. — makes the race toward vaccination ever more important, but also means people have to remain vigilant.
“If this new mutated virus that’s happening over in the UK and other places starts to really get its hold here, it could really be a game changer. And I think we need to be prepared for that,” Adams said. “Things could get worse before they get better.”