The Waitsfield Select Board received a draft plan for how the town might craft an interlocal memorandum of understanding (MOU) with other Valley towns to adopt a local option tax.
Town administrator Trevor Lashua developed the draft at the request of the select board and presented it at the board’s January 14 meeting. The proposal is an alternative to one the select board heard from a Mad River Valley Planning District subcommittee for planning district towns to adopt a charter and instate a local option tax (LOT).
Lashua explained that an MOU could be crafted that specifies a specific term, such as three or five or 10 years. He said that such an agreement could detail specific uses for the funds raised and noted that towns have the authority to do so without involving the Legislature – which a planning district charter would require.
He shared an 11-step process by which Waitsfield, Fayston and Warren could enter into such an agreement, including laying out the public outreach process with a goal of bringing a local option tax proposal to voters in all three towns by Town Meeting 2020.
An LOT, regardless of the mechanism by which it is created, would raise $700,000, which could be used for workforce housing, recreation, transportation, destination marketing and local infrastructure.
The original proposal, by the Mad River Valley – Funding Local Opportunities committee (MRV-FLO) would have local towns, community organizations and private industry apply for grants to use the LOT funds for specific projects that fall within the proposed guidelines. The MRV-FLO proposal calls for the funds to be managed by a committee made up of one person appointed by each select board and one person elected by each town with a seventh person appointed from the Mad River Valley Planning District’s steering committee.
Lashua explained that the same types of projects and funding priorities that the MRV-FLO proposed could be identified and prioritized with an MOU as well. He also told the board that Waitsfield could create its own LOT, which would raise over $400,000, and use it to keep the property tax lower or fund major projects.
Board member Kari Dolan said she felt there’s a need for creating a strategic plan that identifies specific needs and specific projects and also Lashua said creating that plan could be the first step toward a multitown MOU.
Board chair Paul Hartshorn said that if Waitsfield created its own LOT, the town could build a new town garage with minimal impact on the tax rate, but later pointed out that people on fixed incomes would be negatively affected by the tax when buying paper products.
Board member Jon Jamieson said that he supports the three-town process and pointed out that for every 12 cents spent by locals, the towns are getting 0.88 cents spent by visitors to The Valley.
“If you eliminate the three ski areas from that picture and skinny it down to Waitsfield alone, that ratio is going to change and you’re going to put a bigger burden on local folks,” he said.
Board member Darryl Forrest, who serves on the MRV-FLO committee, said he doesn’t see the point of an MOU if Waitsfield is not going to work with the other towns on big picture projects.
“If we’re not going to be on board with the MRV-FLO priorities we might as well go it alone and raise the $440,000 for ourselves,” Forrest said.
Jamieson counted that for every person who feels that Waitsfield should go it alone, there are two who feel like the three towns are one community.
“The MOU has really attractive things in it. The bottom line for me is that if you’re paying attention, you’re seeing that we’re going to get less money from the federal and state governments in the next decade. Waitsfield has been doing its damnedest to keep taxes low. In doing so we’ve put off necessary spending including a town garage. What this proposal does is fill some of those gaps that we’re going to face. It’s essentially going to keep taxes down, going to put some of burden on people who come here and use our community and facilities,” Jamieson said.