COVID-19 Hearing Procedures
Procedures are as of May 1, 2020 as recommend by the Division of Property Valuation and Review (PVR). As this is an evolving situation, these procedures are subject to change.
- Develop a plan that works best for your office and allows you to stay in compliance with the restrictions caused by Covid-19. Towns should follow the guidance from the Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD) from the Governor’s Office about what specific sectors, including Town Offices, are allowed to do. Review the Return to Work Guidance for specific dates and scroll down to Municipalities to see specific guidance for your offices.
- Review your plan with your district advisor, or VLCT to make sure you are in compliance with Open Meeting Law requirements.
- Consider including the COVID-19 message available in NEMRC in your change of appraisal notices depending on your plan. You may also want to add an insert with specifics about how your town will handle grievances this year.
- Consider adding an additional document to your Change of Appraisal Notice that spells out exactly how your town will handle grievances this year. Also post this same information on your website and with your public notice.
Application for Grievance Form:
- Mail with each Change of Appraisal to eliminate need for unnecessary contact.
- Provide Applications with the hearing notice in four (4) places around town and the Clerk’s office
- Post to a website if available
Submission of Application and Evidence (non-verbal):
- Provide an email address to scan (or photograph) and send (preferable as it is in an easily forwarded format)
- Provide a locked receptacle for drop off (if Clerk’s office is not open often)
- If you encourage mailing, be clear about acceptance of postmarks.
Statute only requires a request in writing for grievance, but evidence shows that those who use a standard format have more success getting relevant information and that it is helpful in guiding taxpayers in the process.
Remote Hearing Options
Conducting a grievance hearing during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak will be challenging. Social distancing is recommended to limit the spread of the virus. Because grievance hearings could potentially expose participants to the virus if held face to face, PVR recommends the following protocols be considered for grievance hearings held in 2020:
- Face-to-face hearings are not recommended.
- All grievances must be in writing and submitted via mail or email by the close of grievance day. Our recommendation would be to accept mail postmarked that day.
- Those appellants wishing to support their written appeal with verbal testimony should be given the opportunity via telephone or online video conferencing platform.
- Keep in mind the requirements of Vermont’s open meeting laws still need to be met. However, the Vermont legislature has made temporary amendments to the open meetings law during this unprecedented time. For more information on the amended open meetings law, see the Vermont Secretary of State’s guidance.
- For additional guidance, please refer to the following resources:
The recommendation would be to make these parameters clear in the notice to taxpayers that is posted as well as an amendment to the change of appraisal notice with this year’s protocol. Let the taxpayer know that they should submit all grievances in writing and indicate if they would like to have a phone call for a live hearing. If so, they should indicate the best phone number to reach them at. Assuming you do not reach them on grievance day and a phone call is not returned that day, you should treat the appeal as a mail grievance and decide based on the letter.
In-Person Hearing Options
It is advised that every effort should be made to hold hearings remotely and by video when at all possible. The options below should be used only if remote video conferencing is not an option.
Per H.681 – all meeting should be recorded; no physical location needs be provided for attendance for the public but they must be allowed to access remotely if by video conference or if your phone system capacity allows.
- Single phone with single phone line – from Town Office or personal residence
Two or three Listers (plus assessor if applicable) should be in the office, socially distanced with face coverings to listen to the applicant by speakerphone. Lister evidence should be mailed or emailed to the appellant as early as possible or left for pick up at a designated location. Not possible to have public attendance.
- Single phone with multiple lines – from Town Office or personal residence
If 2 lines only – same as above but allows for one Lister to also attend remotely. Not possible to have public attendance.
If 3 or more lines – same advice as above but would only require a single lister physically present while the other two call in. May be possible to have public attendance, depending on number of lines.
- Networked Phone System – from the Town Office
If your system provides conference capability, see #2. This may also provide the ability to sit at separate workstations to ensure distancing. Consult your Clerk and/or a manual for training on functions or contact the contracted IT provider. May be possible to have public attendance, depending on system and number of lines.
- In-Person Hearings – at the Town office or other appropriate designated location
If you are not able to facilitate remote hearings, either due to your own technical limitations or that of your taxpayers due to insufficient phone or internet access to allow attendance, current directive (as of 4/30/2020) states that there may be more than two employees within a space so long as there is good air circulation.
Not advised to have public attendance.
Please also consider the following:
- Each Lister should have their own materials to prevent sharing.
- Be clear about who will be calling whom when the hearing is to begin.
- Provide adequate space for distancing, wear masks as required by the Governor’s directives, and ideally provide separate entrance and exit so there is less chance for taxpayer-to-taxpayer contact. If space is limited, you might consider a plexiglass barrier like that used in stores to provide greater protections for both you and the taxpayer(s).
- Technical difficulties happen. Consider planning a time buffer between hearings in the event of busy signals, missed or dropped calls and hearings running over due to this new format.
Suggested Wording for Notices
Due to the health threat caused by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and recommendations based on public health, we will not be holding face-to-face grievance hearings this year. If you wish to grieve, you MUST submit a grievance in writing by the date indicated in this notice. You are entitled to state the grievance in a hearing. If you wish to be heard in a live format in addition to submitting your grievance in writing, please provide us with a phone number where we can reach you for a phone grievance or online video conferencing platform. If we are unable to reach you on grievance day at the number you provide, and you do not return our call by the end of grievance hearings, we will decide your grievance based upon the materials provided with your written grievance.
Guidance from statute
Taxpayer’s deadlines. The law contemplates “the grievance meeting” to be a one-day affair, 32 V.S.A. §4111(g), while also recognizing that grievances often spill over into additional days. The statutes therefore provide that a grievance meeting continues until all grievances are heard. 32 V.S.A. §§ 4221-4222. The continuance of the grievance meeting, however, does not change the deadline by which grievances must be lodged. Taxpayers who wish to grieve must get a written notice of appeal to the board of listers on or before the grievance date stated in the change of appraisal notice. Any grievance notice received after that day – even if received while the listers are hearing grievances due to continuances – does not meet the requirement of being filed “at or prior to the time fixed for hearing appeals,” 32 V.S.A. 4222, is untimely, and should not be heard.
Taxpayers must file their appeals to the listers in writing according to 32 V.S.A. §§ 4111 and 4222. However, if a taxpayer arrives at the grievance hearing without having filed anything, the listers should hear the grievance. Written notes taken by the chair of the listers at grievance suffice to qualify as “objections in writing.” Gionet v. Town of Goshen, 152 Vt. 451, 456 (1989).
For additonal information on Grievance Hearings, read our frequently asked questions.