Members of the committee that is exploring a local option tax for The Valley will be asked to attend an upcoming meeting of the Waitsfield Select Board to answer questions about the proposal.
At a November 19 meeting the board talked about the proposal which is being presented throughout The Valley, including to the Fayston Select Board as The Valley Reporter goes to press on November 20.
The Mad River Valley-Funding Local Opportunities (MRV-FLO) committee is a subcommittee of the tri-town Mad River Valley Planning District that has been meeting for a year, aggregating and working through five years of economic studies, Vision and Vitality workshops and the work of three other committees. The MRV-FLO committee’s proposal involves a 1 percent tax on sales, rooms, meals and alcohol. It would generate about $1 million and yield $700,000 to be spent locally.
The preliminary MRV-FLO proposal calls for creating a seven-member board made up of an appointed and elected person from Warren, Waitsfield and Fayston plus one member from the planning district’s steering committee to serve as the chair. As envisioned the funds would be used to support economic development, community projects – including affordable housing and transportation – recreation and destination marketing. To create a local option tax, all three towns would need to vote affirmatively to adopt a charter that the Legislature would ratify.
At the Waitsfield Select Board meeting this week, board members discussed pros and cons and enough concerns to have board member Jon Jamieson make a motion to have members of the MRV-FLO committee attend the board’s December 17 meeting and also to carve out space in upcoming agendas for the board to continue to discuss the proposal.
Board chair Paul Hartshorn voiced concern about the impact of the sales tax on low-income people and Jamieson pointed out that the local option tax is not on food, gasoline, clothes, rent, propane, over-the-counter drugs, medical expenses or any other expenses that are currently exempt from the state sales tax.
“This is local money, raised locally, managed locally and spent locally,” board member Kari Dolan said.
Dolan noted that the MRV-FLO proposal shows that local residents would pay about 12 percent of the funds raised by the local option tax with the remaining 88 percent coming from visitors, skiers and second-home owners.
“That’s an average of $2 per person per month,” Dolan said.
Waitsfield town administrator Trevor Lashua raised concerns about the language of the proposed charter and its legal impact on the town.
Board members agreed that the proposed timeline of bringing the local option tax to a vote at Town Meeting was aggressive, although Darryl Forrest pointed out that this work has been underway for over five years.
“It’s a big issue to get voters informed on this,” Hartshorn said, and Forrest said that several outreach meetings were being planned but that the committee wanted the local select boards to give the nod to moving ahead with public outreach first.
Board member Sal Spinosa said he had many layers of questions about the proposal and that the select board should do its own vetting before the proposal is presented to the public. The proposal has already been presented to the boards of the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce, the planning district and a meeting of all three select boards last week. Mad River Valley Television and The Valley Reporter have covered those meetings extensively.
Spinosa said he was not comfortable with a Town Meeting vote, seeing no urgency, and noted that The Valley was surviving without the tax.
“We’ve been working on this for five years,” Forrest said. “We’re trying to make something happen and not move at the glacial pace we often move at.”
Dolan raised the issue of how other communities in the state have structured local option taxes and said there were other possible ways to go about it.
“I take issue with what Sal said, that we’re surviving without it. We’re just surviving without it. I’m the newest guy here and don’t have the scar tissue that you guys do. I sought to serve because I saw a board that was being very reactive and felt we needed to be more proactive. From my perspective and experience with the community fund and the planning district and as an employer of 12 in this town – I’m the only guy at the table with a going business concern – we have a lot of needs in this town and we’ve been in this mode of keeping taxes low. But there’s a rising tide of needs. This is an attempt to facilitate cooperation and recognize that all three towns have common goals, social needs and infrastructure,” Jamieson said.
“We’re the only ski town in Vermont other than Jay and Burke that doesn’t have a local option tax. Every town that took this route, they are improving their communities and, frankly, they are outcompeting us,” he continued.
Robin Morris, owner of the Mad River Food Hub and Mad River Taste Place, spoke up and said that as an employer he was fully aware that housing is the most pressing need facing The Valley and a concrete plan for that issue needs to be in place to address it lest the funds raised be wasted.
“Over 10 years, this could raise $7 million. What plan is there to put workforce housing in place? The role of the select board in each town is to push the Town Plan and if the three towns can put forth good Town Plans for affordable housing we’ll have a way to spend that money,” he said.
Previous LOT Articles:
Nov. 1, 2018-MRV-FLO – local option tax proposed
Nov. 8, 2018-MRV-FLO presented to local boards
Nov. 15, 2018-Select boards hear plan for local option tax