Members of the Warren, Waitsfield and Fayston select boards voiced questions, concerns and support for a proposal to create a local option tax for The Valley.
Those comments include support for the tri-town initiative as well as questions about the details and a concern from one select board member about whether the proposal would impact the sovereign authority of the town.
The three boards met together on November 13 at the Waitsfield town office to learn about the Mad River Valley-Funding Local Opportunities (MRV-FLO) initiative, presented by a subcommittee of the Mad River Valley Planning District.
Warren Select Board chair Andy Cunningham opened the meeting and handed it off to Fayston Select Board chair Jared Cadwell, who is also chair of the MRV-FLO subcommittee.
LOCAL OPTION TAX
“We’ve been working over the past six months to pull together all the feedback and information from various community forums and studies over the last several years. We’ve pulled that information together with the intention of presenting a proposal to the public, starting with the combined boards of the planning district and chamber last week, and now the three select boards,” Cadwell explained and introduced MRVPD steering committee chair and Warren Select Board member Bob Ackland.
Ackland explained the nuts and bolts of the proposal, which involves the three member towns of the planning district voting affirmatively to adopt a charter which creates a 1 percent local option tax. All sales, rooms, meals and alcohol and retails would be taxed at 1 percent, which would generate about $700,000 to be used locally to fund local opportunities.
As currently planned in this draft, Ackland said, the locally generated funds would remain local and help fund community projects, destination marketing, recreation and economic development. Included in those four categories are affordable housing, infrastructure to support it as well as transportation. The MRV-FLO committee has created metrics for measuring the efficacy of their work for each category.
Providing this funding for recreation and the Mad River Valley Recreation District would mean local towns do not make their annual $15,000 contribution to the rec district.
“We’ve been at this awhile, some of us since 2015. This proposal is about keeping The Valley vibrant. We’ve got great assets and there are a lot of things we should be proud of. To get to this point, we used a lot of information in our thinking. You’re familiar with the 2014 economic study and the 2015 Vision and Vitality Workshop series. From that work came community goals of creating a welcoming, healthy, sustainable, diverse economy with enhanced year-round recreational opportunities that maintains our historic settlement pattern,” Ackland explained.
“To build on that momentum, there are some things we need to make it a reality. Change is going to happen no matter what we do. We can manage the change or sit back and let the change manage us. We don’t want to change our community, we want to support it and how great it is,” he added.
Ackland pointed out challenges that the community faces such as lack of affordable house, which hampers employers’ efforts to hire staff and prevents young families from coming to The Valley, seniors, young people and those without cars need better public transportation options, businesses need more year-round business and less seasonality, and there’s a need to enhance and support recreational opportunities in The Valley.
Ackland also talked about the aging population of The Valley and Vermont, noting that while the average age in Vermont is 42, it is 49 in The Valley.
“All your other taxes get spent somewhere else. They manage it. This would be money that is locally raised, managed and spent locally,” he pointed out and said that because of The Valley’s tourism-based economy, only 12 percent of the $700,000 raised would be from local spending.
The MRV-FLO commission would be made up of one appointed and one elected person from each town as well as a chair appointed from the planning district’s steering committee.
When the meeting was opened to comment, Warren resident and Chez Henri chef Tim Seniff voiced opposition to the proposal saying it would reduce business and reduce the amount people spent. Waitsfield resident and business owner Joanie Kavanaugh expressed concerns about the impact on businesses as well as things like building homes.
Waitsfield Select Board member Sal Spinosa asked how the tax would be applied to building materials and was told the 1 percent tax would apply to all retail sales.
Fayston Select Board member Chuck Martel said that he felt there was still a lot to be fleshed out with the proposal, such as details about how individual organizations and town governments would apply for grants to fund projects and events.
Spinosa said he felt MRV-FLO was a case of the tail wagging the dog and said he was surprised that a subcommittee of the planning district’s steering committee was presenting this proposal. He suggested having the MRV-FLO committee propose this was a usurpation of local authority, a potential loss of sovereign authority for the town.
CONTROL OUR FUTURES
Cadwell reminded him that the voters of the three member towns created the steering committee and the memorandum of understanding that governs it.
Waitsfield Select Board member Jon Jamieson spoke in praise of the idea, noting that Burke charges people $20 to ride on its biking trails and generates $1.2 million annually.
“That’s the dynamic; we’ve got to make our product better or we’re going to look like one of those towns you drive through in the Adirondacks with the windows boarded up. This is an idea that gives us control over our futures,” Jamieson said.
COST OF DOING NOTHING
“I’m happy that you put this proposal together. I think it’s my job to vet it and see where we go with it. I can’t see why a businessperson wouldn’t be ecstatic that government on any level would reach out and try to help,” said Warren Select Board and Planning Commission member Randy Graves.
“We’re lucky to have the opportunity to drive the shop a little better than tumbling along at the bottom of the river. Why not see this right to the end and see what we can do with this?” Graves asked.
“I ask myself, what is the cost of doing nothing?” Graves added.
Waitsfield Select Board chair Paul Hartshorn joined the meeting late and suggested that the MRV-FLO would reduce local control and create big government versus small government.