This post is part of a series of posts on “Learning about town government” in my town of Cambridge, Vermont. Please see the link for context, a disclaimer, and a list of posts in this series.
The 2018 annual report for the Town of Cambridge lists three “statutory boards” (page 18): Board of Civil Authority, Board of Abatement, and Board of Health. What are these boards?
Each of these boards consists of individuals who are elected or appointed to other positions, and who are combined into a particular board by statute. Justices of the peace, for example, are automatically members of the Board of Civil Authority and the Board of Abatement. Members of the selectboard are on each of the boards described in this post.
This post provides an overview of these three statutory boards, with links to detailed information for those who want to know more.
Board of Civil Authority
The Board of Civil Authority consists of the town clerk, members of the selectboard, and justices of the peace (24 V.S.A. § 801).
The Board of Civil Authority deals with two matters:
- Appeals of property assessments
In election matters, the BCA assists the town clerk with:
- Determining voter eligibility (17 V.S.A. Chapter 43, §§ 2121-2154). This primarily means maintaining the voter checklist.
- Conducting elections (17 V.S.A. Chapter 51, §§ 2451-2617). The Vermont Secretary of State provides resources about Election Procedures. See in particular the Election Procedures Guide (2018). This guide explains the roles of the town clerk (who is the presiding officer at elections) and the BCA.
The second major function of the BCA is to hear appeals of taxpayers who challenge their property assessment. Property values for tax purposes (the “grand list”) are assigned by the listers. Property owners who disagree with this value must first appeal to the listers (32 V.S.A. § 4221). If not satisfied with the decision of the listers, property owners may appeal to the Board of Civil Authority (32 V.S.A. Chapter 131, §§ 4401-4469).
The Vermont Secretary of State provides resources about Property Taxes. See in particular the Handbook on Property Tax Assessment Appeals (2009).
The Vermont League of Cities and Towns also provides resources about Property Tax Appeals. All of the resources at this link are new or updated in 2019.
Board of Abatement
The Board of Abatement consists of the Board of Civil Authority (town clerk, members of the selectboard, and justices of the peace) plus the listers and town treasurer (24 V.S.A. § 1533). In Cambridge, as in many towns, the town clerk and town treasurer are the same person, but that is not the case in all towns.
State law permits relief from property taxes, including interest and penalties, in certain limited circumstances to prevent injustice. This relief is called abatement. The allowable circumstances for abatement are listed at 24 V.S.A. § 1535.
Abatement may apply to water and sewer charges, as well as property taxes, but the Town of Cambridge does not operate any water or sewer systems. The Village of Cambridge has a water system and the Village of Jeffersonville has both a water system and a sewer system. This post, however, is about town government, not village government.
Abatement is discretionary – the town is allowed but not required to provide relief in the listed circumstances. Discretion is delegated to the Board of Abatement.
The Vermont Secretary of State says: “One of the most difficult decisions that local boards must make is whether to abate property taxes for a member of its community.” The Secretary of State provides guidance about abatement on its page titled Property Taxes. See the publication About Abatement (2014). This publication includes case studies which are helpful. The quote at the beginning of this paragraph is from this publication.
Board of Civil Authority vs. Board of Abatement
The Board of Civil Authority and the Board of Abatement both hear appeals related to property taxes, but different types of appeals. As a general rule, the Board of Civil Authority hears appeals of property assessments (i.e., grand list values) while the Board of Abatement hears appeals of property taxes (i.e., payments due) including interest and penalties. An exception is an appeal of the penalty for late filing of the homestead declaration. Such appeals are heard by the Board of Civil Authority (32 V.S.A. § 5410(j)). See my 2018 post: Penalty for filing a tax form late.
The quorum rules for both the Board of Civil Authority and the Board of Abatement are complicated. See my 2017 post: What is a quorum?
Board of Health
The Board of Health consists of the town health officer and members of the selectboard (18 V.S.A. § 604).
The Board of Health has authority to make and enforce rules relating to public health hazards and the mitigation of public health risks, subject to the approval of the Vermont Commissioner of Health (18 V.S.A. § 613). The selectboard has authority to issue a non‑emergency health order (18 V.S.A. § 126). The town health officer has authority to issue an emergency health order (18 V.S.A. § 127). The town health officer and the Board of Health may call upon law enforcement officials for assistance in enforcing their rules and orders (18 V.S.A. § 617).
In practice, most local public health issues are handled by the town health officer, with little need for the town Board of Health to convene. The Cambridge Board of Health has not issued any public health rules.
The Vermont Department of Health provides Resources for Town Health Officers. See especially the Town Health Officer Manual. This 107-page manual was updated in 2019.
Click here to go to the initial post in this series: “Learning about town government.”