Two representatives from the Waitsfield Select Board will join two representatives from the Warren Select Board and, mostly likely, two from the Fayston Select Board at the table to negotiate the wording of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) by which the three towns may bring a local option tax proposal to voters next year at Town Meeting.
The idea of adopting a tri-town local option tax has been under consideration for several years and local select boards were asked recently to send representatives to negotiate how such a tax could be created by a memorandum of understanding between the three towns.
While there was some drama in The Valley this week over whether or not the towns should sit at the table to discuss whether shared language can be agreed upon, it must not be forgotten that this is an issue that will be decided by Australian ballot by the collective voters from the three Valley towns.
Much like voters in the three Valley towns voted, by Australian ballot, at Town Meeting in 1985 to create the Mad River Valley Planning District, any vote to adopt an MOU that creates a local option tax must be made by the voters.
The select boards do not have the authority to create or adopt such a tax. Their ability to tax voters requires that they bring a tax rate to voters for approval at Town Meeting. Their ability to spend money requires that they bring a budget to Town Meeting for approval by town voters.
In fact, select board authority over taxing and spending, as was pointed out recently, has to do with funds raised by taxing town property owners sums of money based on the appraised value of their property.
Certainly, select boards can borrow money – with the approval of the voters who approve the budget that details the how and why of the borrowing.
It’s hard to fathom how bringing people from each town to the negotiating table is a threat to any particular bit of town authority – any more than bringing people to the table in the run up to the 1985 vote to negotiate the terms of the planning district threatened or diminished member town authority.
A seat at the table does not represent a diminution of sovereign authority.