Members of the Warren Planning Commission, as well as members from the public, asked process and governance questions about a proposed Valleywide local option tax (LOT) at a public hearing last week.
Members of the Mad River Valley Planning District subcommittee that has proposed a local option tax for district member towns (Warren, Waitsfield and Fayston) presented the current thinking on the Mad River Valley – Funding Local Opportunities (MRV-FLO) proposal at a well-attended meeting in Warren on January 16.
Warren Select Board member Bob Ackland, who serves on the planning district’s steering committee as well as the MRV-FLO subcommittee, explained the basics of the proposal to those present, noting that the details of the proposal are still a work in progress.
As currently proposed, voters in all three towns would vote for a planning district charter change to establish a 1 percent local option tax on rooms, meals, alcohol and sales. It would raise about $1 million, of which $700,000 would be retained locally and could be used for workforce housing, recreation, transportation, destination marketing and local infrastructure.
The proposal 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 the MRV-FLO Commission 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.
At the meeting, Ackland expanded on how community organizations could apply for grants to use the MRV-FLO funds and gave a detailed example of how the funds might be used to help with the lack of workforce housing in The Valley.
“We know that affordable workforce and rental housing are critical. We’re not going to build houses,” Ackland said, referencing the MRV-FLO subcommittee.
“So how can we make that happen? Maybe give $350,000 to the housing trust that is managed by the Mad River Valley Housing Coalition. That would be $700,000 in two years and there is already money in that trust from Sugarbush,” he said.
“What could be done? Buy land. Provide money, not all of it but some, for engineering, or a seed grant for a wastewater system. If that were in Waitsfield or Fayston we’d find out how much they’d need on a $200,000 bond and perhaps that money could come out of the housing trust as it moves through time. There’s lots of creative ways to think about this. It’s not going to be all public money; it’s going to have to be a public-private effort,” Ackland explained.
After detailing how funds could be used for public transportation, destination marketing and recreation, Ackland opened the floor to questions.
Dan Raddock, a member of the Warren Planning Commission and the planning district’s steering committee, asked how people would get their voices heard in terms of priorities for projects. He asked if people who wanted to serve on the MRV-FLO Commission should advocate for a specific type of spending.
Fayston Select Board chair Jared Cadwell, who serves on the planning district’s steering committee and the MRV-FLO subcommittee explained that the current thinking has specific types of projects identified for funding, but that the bylaws allow the commission to shift those over time as priorities change.
“It wouldn’t be up to a commissioner to advocate for something. A request for a roof for the Skatium, for example, would have to come from Don Swain; then it goes through the process. The people who serve should be elected with a clear vision of what The Valley needs rather than advocating for a special project,” Ackland added.
Camilla Behn, a member of the Warren Planning Commission, asked about the steering committee’s representative to the MRV-FLO subcommittee and asked whether that position would become a paid position down the road.
Cadwell said that the chair would be the administrative facilitating leader of the body but would have administrative support to allow some from the planning district to assist the commission.
ISSUES ARE VALLEYWIDE
In response to a question from Raddock about towns adopting their own LOTS versus a tri-town effort, MRV-FLO subcommittee member Peter MacLaren pointed out that the issues facing the towns are Valleywide.
“It’s almost impossible to carve up the economy. Fayston and Warren have ski areas and accommodations and Waitsfield has Lawson’s and the Skatium and the commercial center,” MacLaren said.
Warren resident Ashley Woods asked whether people wanting to serve on the MRV-FLO Commission would run on a platform and asked whether the funding would be held in reserve if the commission doesn’t get suitable grant requests. The response from the subcommittee was that commissioners shouldn’t run on a platform and that the money would be held in reserve if not spent.
Warren Select Board member and planning commissioner Randy Graves said that he was initially opposed to the LOT but said that was a knee-jerk response and that his thinking had come around.
THINK DOWN THE ROAD
“This is one of those proposals that requires us to think down the road. I prefer to think of this as an ‘us tax.’ We gather the funds; we spend the funds to make life better. I’d trust the reps on the commission. Why wouldn’t these commissioners do the right thing?” he asked.
Warren resident Giles Smith asked whether there could be Valleywide consensus or Town Meeting vote prioritizing projects and Cadwell explained that the process of having a representative governing body would serve the MRV-FLO Commission and The Valley better.
Fayston will host the next MRV-FLO subcommittee meeting on January 31 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Fayston town office.